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Our route to Yellowstone took us over some of the highest mountain passes of our trip. While spectacular in views we also took them spectacularly slowly! Yellowstone was incredible to behold in spite of chilly, rainy weather. We made the most of our time there and would love to return one day, ideally, with more time, better weather and less people!
June 16 – Big Horn National Forest
Saying we awoke early would be an understatement to say the least. We more gave up on trying to sleep through the semi-truck noise and highway traffic. It was also a dreary, rainy day and without solar our batteries let us down once again. Strangely the generator would not ignite either, it was cranking but not starting, another puzzle to figure out. After a little trouble shooting and not really getting anywhere we back tracked slightly to pick up the cheapest fuel for miles at $3.12/gal when all others on the radar were $3.35! We drove down HWY 90 until we hit the town of Buffalo. We had been discussing taking the 16 to Yellowstone and the highway signs claiming “least grade” and “scenic route” convinced us to do so. We topped off the gas tank in Buffalo since we weren’t sure where the next fuel stop would be but shortly after we left Buffalo we started to climb and climb and climb. The signs mentioning the “least grade” felt like a blatant lie! Also Izzy didn’t seem to be providing much power, making us think we had some bad fuel from our last fill up 🙁 We didn’t have much choice but to keep climbing upwards through a dense shroud of fog. Finally, we broke through the cloud cover into the sunshine just in time for a scenic lookout and a lunch break. We were totally unprepared to be greeted by such an incredible view of the snow capped mountains. No wonder there was such a climb! We were in the middle of Big Horn National Forest on Cloud Peak Skyway. We climbed over hills and down again on a very windy road popping in and out of the clouds. Overall, the weather maintained it’s beautiful sunshine as we hit the max elevation of 9,677ft and descended again although the grade was less steep going down this side than up the other. As we approached an enormous double switch back we noticed Izzy’s brakes were smelling a little warm, so we pulled off at a look out spot just before the switch back the let her cool her heels while Beau did a little droning. The views throughout the mountains were incredible with all sorts of different rock formations and massive canyon walls. Once we braved the mighty switchback, conquering it at a snail’s pace with the ease only a 13000+ lb rig could manage, we reached the bottom of the switchback and a rushing river with a turnoff along side.
We headed down the gravel road and had a brief stop at a campground to capture some photos of the river as well as some overhead shots too. As we waved goodbye to the mountains, watching them disappear in our rearview camera, we entered into a very different landscape. It was rolling desert like hills with many inactive oil pumps dotted throughout. It felt very wild west. We drove through several small towns along the way and soon after the rolling desert hills gave way to flat farm land. We stopped in the small town of Basin, WY at a free camp spot for the night. The site was basically a gravel parking lot next to a neatly mowed grassy area but it was along a swiftly rushing river with a great shot of the mountains in the distance behind it. The daylight was still young so we took the opportunity to work on Izzy’s headlights which had shaken loose, check the air filter and secure some other loose pieces that had been flopping around. Feeling the kinks ourselves we also took the opportunity to do some yoga and stretching in the sunshine to combat all the sitting from the last few days. Monty of course took himself for a walkabout into the bushes and around the perimeter. We completed our evening with dinner and some more computer work while being serenaded by a strange bird at the neighbouring house. We could swear it sounded like a peacock, but why would there be peacocks in Wyomming?
June 17 – Yellowstone
The next morning after getting packed up and preparing to hit the road, we looked over towards the neighbours house and low and behold there was a peacock chilling on a bail of hay! Maybe we’re not going crazy after all… We headed into the town of Cody about an hour away with high hopes of WIFI and Starbucks coffee, however, our hopes were dashed after we had ordered our Americanos when the WIFI wouldn’t connect us to the internet. Let down, we didn’t linger and took our coffees on the road along with some cake loaf we had snagged from the grocery store. We detoured for a brief stop at an Autozone, singing the jingle “Get in the zone! Autozone!” the entire 5 minute ride there, to pick up a spark plug for the generator in hopes this would solve our generator issues. From Cody it was a short one hour drive to the east entrance of Yellowstone National Park, although, we were sidetracked for a half hour by a massive waterfall and took some time to check out the Buffalo Bill Dam a stones throw from Cody. They had a well maintained and informative visitors center and with the spillway open the water flowing out of the dam was immense! Back on the road, we ended up at Yellowstone’s east entrance after driving through the Shoshone National Forest. We stopped for the tourist photo with the entrance sign then continued into the park with all it’s, ups, downs, lefts and rights.
It was an unsurprisingly hilly and twisty road with us summiting at Sylvan Pass and 8530ft. We stopped for numerous photos of the scenery, waterfalls, and some thermal areas along the way. We arrived at the Fishing Bridge Visitor’s Center where we had a very late lunch and collected our stamp and the Yellowstone park sticker. From Fishing Bridge we headed north towards Canyon Village, making a stop at a geothermal feature aptly named Mud Volcano. We crammed the RV into a side parking spot along with the plethora of other vehicles and almost walked into a herd of Bison that were roaming around the area.
We took a ton of photos of the herd and their little calves as we walked along the boardwalk surrounding the geothermal feature. While preparing to leave the site, the herd seemed to get spooked and took off across the road, blocking traffic for a few minutes before heading down to another pasture. As we started driving again it started to rain, we had been lucky this far since it hadn’t rained too much on us even though it was forecasted to rain all day. When we reached the Canyon Village area, it was still pouring down putting a damper on us checking out the waterfalls; however, were able to snag a lucky parking spot and suited up with rain jackets and umbrellas to catch some stunning footage of the falls and canyon before jumping back in the RV. Our next plan was to nip into the Canyon Village visitors center for our passport stamp but the visitors center was already closed for the day!! Hours ahead of advertised. We decided to take the west side of the upper loop road and keep our eyes out for a campground for the night while keeping an eye on the darkening skies and looming clouds overhead. Little did we know we were in for a very bumpy, dirty ride as half the west side of the upper loop was under construction. We survived the puddly, pot hole laden, suspension death trap relatively unscathed and the weather had also brightened up so we decided to go for the slightly further afield free campsite for the night. Along the way we stopped at Mammoth Hot Springs Terraces, another geothermal feature on the map.
It was quite the sight with many different pinks, oranges and greys as well as a variety of textures and formations. We took a little walk along the boardwalk that circuited some of the more interesting features until we were chilly and hungry so we headed back to the RV and on to our free spot. We found a little riverside rest area just outside the town of Gardiner, MT. Yes, we had actually crossed into another state to reach our resting place. It was a chilly night and we were still having issues with our generator and battery power. We bundled up and headed to bed.
June 18 – Yellowstone
We were up pretty early and made breakfast before ascending the short but steep switchback driveway out onto the main highway. A few miles down the road we passed through Gardiner once again and stopped for diesel before re-entering Yellowstone from the north gate where we had exited the night previous. Just up the windy drive from the gate we made a stop at the Mammoth Springs visitor center to collect yet another passport stamp and use the WiFi to arrange for an oil change with an Idaho Falls mechanic. From the north end of the park we headed east along the upper loop through the lush green valley and up into the hills. The first viewpoint of the day was at Udine falls where we took a short walk to get a better vantage point of the falls as they streamed down the rocky cliff and crashed into the rushing river below. Our photos and selfies were wrapped up just in time for the rain to start, however, this time the rain only lasted a few miles before letting up and allowing us to climb up into the mountains and over the pass with a tremendous view of the ice fields in the distance. We hit Tower Falls next but the incredibly packed parking lot was unwelcoming to a rig of our size so we claimed a nearby roadside pull out to dock Izzy for a few minutes while we went for a peek at the falls. Absurdly busy and feeling rushed, we made the stop quick with a few snaps of the camera and continued onward toward Canyon Village. Being midday, lunch was high on the priority list so we whipped up some grub and went in to the visitor center for our stamp and some camp site information at the ranger booth before continuing east to the lower loop road and turning south. One of our favorite parts of the park were the Artists Paint Pots which had an awesome walk around the colorful thermal springs and spattering mud pots all encompassed by a forest of burnt out trees harboring bright green mossy growths.
The paint pots really had us riding high and made us super excited for the next stop and one of the most famous and picturesque sights of the park, Grand Prismatic Spring. Unfortunately, on arrival the parking lot was insane and people we lined up for what seem like miles along the road so we had to forgo the highly anticipated stop and continue on our drive. The sky’s were darkening to a threatening level and the day was getting on in hours so we had to make a decision on the next sights to see. The park is huge and our two days really didn’t do it justice however the weather had limited our hiking opportunities anyway. The last stop for the day was at the world famous Old Faithful, a sight synonymous with Yellowstone. We arrived and though the place was busy as expected, the parking lot was enormous in comparison to the others. We inquired at the ranger booth for the expected blast off of the reliable geyser and were given an hour or so to wander the plethora of different geysers all with their own viewing platforms and character.
Coming full circle and having more footage than we could ever hope to use, we arrived back at Old Faithful in a timely manner as it began a wave of spouting and shooting it’s steamy vapor far into the air. Surprisingly to us the show lasted for nearly five minutes from a quiet sputter to an all out wizardry eruption and back again to spurts. It was deep into evening by the time we had gotten out of the rush hour parking lot so we decided to stay locally in the parks southern most campground Lewis Lake, which to our advantage, maxed out at our exact length of 25ft, no exceptions!!. We circled the camp at first trying to locate an ideal spot but eventually we just settled for a nest we’d actually fit our buts in. The forecast for the night wasn’t looking kind for our situational lack of battery power and a dead generator but we were still far from roughing it in our luxury box. We layered up in the near freezing temps and frustratingly made the most of our quiet night by taking a walk to the lake and talking with a neighbor.