A Day At Yellowstone National Park

I got to bed quite a bit later than I really wanted to last night and by the time I fell asleep it was about 12:30. I woke up at 6:30. That might sound like a short night, but six solid and uninterrupted hours is amazing for me. The bed at the motel was probably the comfiest I have ever slept in! I dozed until 7:30 and then got going.

It was a nippy morning and there was frost on the truck. The day remained cool, but very comfortable, a perfect fall day where you need to layer up, but not get super bundled. I was really impressed by my packing when I tried to remember where I had put a pair of gloves and a tuque and found them tucked into a side pocket of my travel bag.

I made a stop at McDonald’s for coffee ($1.70 versus $1.00 in non-resort towns!) and decided to be smart and top up the fuel tank ($3.55, which really isn’t horrible).

The west entrance to Yellowstone Park was right after the gas station, at the edge of town. I didn’t realise I was so close! Unfortunately, I had the sun in my eyes the whole drive down to Old Faithful, which meant that I could barely see anything and missed key signs I wanted to photograph, especially the ones welcoming me to Yellowstone and then Wyoming!

The ranger who greeted me at the ticket booth was super friendly. I took my friend Jody’s advice and got the $80 Interagency Pass (commonly called the America the Beautiful Pass). Jody says that it’s good for a lot of sites in Idaho, Utah, and Arizona.

The first milestone of the day was crossing into the first of the two new states I’ll be visiting on the way down, Wyoming!

From the west access road, I turned south onto the Grand Loop towards Old Faithful and stopped at the first walk, Fountain Pots, to see some hot springs and mud holes. It was a nice leg stretch, but the boardwalk was slick with frost and I nearly slipped a few times!

I knew that I needed to go back to West Yellowstone to get to Idaho Falls, so I decided to go straight to Old Faithful and then come back and do as many walks as I had time for, not knowing how long I would have to wait for the old geyser to blow. Old Faithful was essentially a dead end today because of road closures so I couldn’t go beyond it anyway. There was thankfully no construction so the drive in was quick and I got to the visitor’s centre around 10:20. The next eruption was predicted to be at 10:40. Do I have good timing or what?!

Old Faithful isn’t the biggest geyser in Yellowstone and it doesn’t go off like clockwork, but it is very predictable, so I knew I had to go right back outside. The minute I found a spot to watch the famous geyser, it started its show.

And what a show it was! I couldn’t believe the plume of steam coming out of the ground and the column of water! I couldn’t help but think that this is where clouds are manufactured.

I then went back to the visitor’s centre and toured the exhibit and gift shop. I learned in the exhibit just how unique Yellowstone is in the world. It has the largest number of undisturbed hydrothermal features and what really makes it stand out is that it has all four types of features, hot springs, geysers, mud pots, and steam vents. Geysers are also a lot rarer than I realised.

I went to the other gift shop across from the VC and treated myself to a lovely pair of silver earrings. I got my ears repierced this spring after piercing my nose and was pretty sick of the pink stones I’ve had in my ears since the spring! I got studs in a leaf pattern. They were just $13, to my immense surprise.

It was surprising to see this other gift shop and the restaurant being open, so late in the season. In the summer, the Old Faithful site is a bustling community, with a general store, gas pumps, and rental yurts.

Before leaving the Old Faithful site, I had a picnic lunch in my truck. It was only noonish when I headed out, so I went back up to the west entrance junction at Madison and stopped at literally every point along the way to walk and see every type of geothermal feature!

A lady suggested that I make one last stop at the Artists’ Pots just north of Madison and I decided to do the detour since I didn’t feel quite done yet. On the way there, I stopped at Gibbon Falls.

The Artists’ Pots loop involved quite a hike upwards over rough terrain, but it was worth it for the view! I was quite glad to see my truck after and even gladder that I really felt ‘done’ instead of rushed to get back on the road so I could get to Idaho Falls at a decent hour.

I think I did a pretty good job filling my day at Yellowstone! I saw and did a lot more than I expected and really got a sense for what the park is all about.

A few pictures from the day…

And a video…

From Yellowstone, it was time to head to Idaho Falls, where I had reserved a motel room for the weekend. It was only about a two hour drive (except for a half hour construction delay! 🙁 ), so it was the perfect place to get to to get out of the mountains and feel like I was making progress before stopping for three days.

My gas mileage today was perfectly normal, maybe even good since I had a very long downhill stretch where I just put the truck in second and third gears (depending on the slope) and coasted.

I’m not in Idaho Falls to play tourist because I have quite a bit of work to do. If I manage to be on schedule or better, I do have one excursion planned for Sunday. Otherwise, I will do it Monday and head to Utah from there.

I really lucked out on the motel. The cost per night after taxes is $51.75. I have a newly renovated room on the second floor well away from the busy road. The desk and chair setup is adequate, a fridge and microwave mean I was able to get a few groceries (and will be able to make my own coffee), and there is even a pool and hot tub (not that I’m going to make it there tonight, I’m so beat!). This was the absolute cheapest place I could find in the area and the reviews were so good I was suspicious. I am really pleased and won’t mind being locked in here typing for a few days. 🙂

One of the promises I made to myself for the trip down was that I was going to avoid chain restaurants. But by the time I was unpacked tonight, I realised that I was famished from all that fresh air and exercise and that I didn’t want to research local restaurants and drive all over town when there was an Applebee’s close by. So I headed there and, to my immense surprise, ordered a STEAK. Seriously, what’s gotten into me?! 😀 I splurged and got shrimp in a garlicky cheese sauce to top the steak and had nice veggies and mashed potatoes as sides, along with a glass of white wine. It’s a good thing I don’t eat like that every day! But, hey, did I mention I did A LOT of walking today?! 😀 It was a crazy good meal and not too expensive.

After dinner, I went over to Walmart (the closest grocery store) and got some food so that I don’t have to go out first thing in the morning. I’ll do one meal out per day, likely lunch (cheaper), but it’ll be nice to have coffee in the morning without having to get dressed!

Billings to Yellowstone, MT, With a Virginia City Detour

I wound up doing more mileage than expected today (about 350KM, although it felt like MUCH more), but I’m right near Old Faithful (less than an hour if the road is open and there are no detours), so that will save me time tomorrow.

A lady at McDonald’s this morning suggested to me that I check out Virginia City, a ghost town near Bozeman. I checked the map and that was barely a detour on my way to Old Faithful, so that’s where I pointed the GPS. But first, I went to Walmart for an oil change and tire pressure check. I had an hour to kill while waiting for that, so I stopped at the deli counter for salami and cheese (enough for two days), apples, crackers, and a veggie tray. I also found a map book, but the GPSes were packaged and shelved in such a way that I couldn’t comparison shop. Plus the prices were too high, so I left them there.

During this time, I also switched back to my CDN SIM card to call SaskTel and suspend my service for three months. That will save me $150, so it was worth the wait to get through to a service rep!

The service manager for automotive apologized for not vacuuming the inside of my truck. I told her that I am aware that my truck is bursting with stuff and that I wasn’t expecting that bit of the service. 🙂

I left Billings around 10:30 and took I-90 west towards Bozeman. There isn’t much in the way of radio out in these parts, so I continued to listen to an audio book my friend L gave me this summer after he was done with it, a pulpy thriller by Tami Hoag, whom I enjoy on occasion. It was a good story with characters I could care about as well as super well narrated, so the miles just ate themselves up.

I stopped at a rest area for an early picnic after getting a coffee at a service station. The wind has been terrible and my gas mileage is absolutely horrible so far. Fuel is still cheaper than I budgeted for, but barely. I had planned on 1.20CAD per litre and I’ve been averaging 1.00CAD. I’m about a third of the way to Nogales (really!) and as long as gas doesn’t go above $3.50ish a gallon, I’ll do okay, especially if I get out of the mountains and high winds!

I really do wonder if there’s something wrong with my gas gauge. I can go from ‘F’ to three quarters of a tank or three quarters to a half or a half to a quarter in literally minutes after being stuck at the previous mark for ages. When I get to a quarter tank, I get to the red mark so fast it makes my head spin. I really should go to the Ford Ranger forum and see if this is normal behaviour.

At any rate, I reached Bozeman and had to get off the interstate and onto a state road. This involved stopping at 50 billion red lights. I am barely exaggerating. That sort of city driving is so fun with a clutch. Not.

Between the lights and all the construction I had and would pass, my ETA to Virginia City changed from 2PM to 3PM. I didn’t mind because I suspected, correctly so, that the city would be shut for the season and there wouldn’t be much to see or do. I parked on a side street and walked up and down the main strip, enjoying the old western-style buildings that reminded me so much of Dawson City. The ice cream parlour was open, so I stopped in and asked for two tiny scoops in a cup, one of cookies and cream, one of cherry cheesecake. My portion was apparently ridiculous (no, it was not, and the proof is below) and got me a discount!

From what I can understand about Virginia City, most of the buildings have been renovated to keep their derelict appearance, but the town is very much alive and has businesses and a population. I couldn’t even get a walking map today, so I didn’t get much info about the town. Going there was something to do to eat up part of the day and I’m absolutely glad I made the detour, but it wasn’t a memorable stop for me.

By the time I got back down to Ennis, the town where the wind apparently blows hard enough to rip off a man’s arm, it was time to decide where I was going to spend the night. It was really too early to stop without having a place outside the truck to spend the evening and I still had two hours to go to get to Old Faithful. My GPS and map told me there was one more sizable community before I hit the park, West Yellowstone. It was only an hour away, so I decided to push on.

The wind along the drive was brutal and cold. I stopped off a few times to take pictures of a submerged forest and was nearly blown into the lake! This lake came to be after a major earthquake in 1959 that killed 28 people, most of them sound asleep in tents at a campground. The first plaque about the earthquake was announced ahead of time as ‘The night of terror and loss’ and let me say I didn’t need convincing to pull off the road and see what that was about! I can’t imagine what a nightmare that night was!

To my immense surprise, there was a rest area along that desolate stretch of highway. I was grateful that I no longer had to look for a tree to squat behind and made a point to check the forecast for West Yellowstone. It was going to be bitter cold overnight. I decided to shop for a motel if I could find something for under 75USD per night, which is way more than I’m comfortable spending, but I’m in major tourist country.

I should point out that my budget is tight by choice and so quite flexible. I’m just worried that next month’s cheque will be late, too, so I’m doing what I can to stretch out what I’ve got in the bank to cover my early day expenses in Mexico (border fees and first month’s rent) as well as all the November bills. Worst case scenario if I get a major extra expense, I’ll have to wait for the November cheque to arrive and delay my arrival in Mexico. Not a huge deal, certainly not enough to freeze in my truck tonight! 🙂

There was a surprising amount of businesses still open in West Yellowstone considering the time of year. I walked and drove around, checking out the less expensive looking motels. The first one was a NO because the office reeked, while the second and third had no one staffing the front desks or answering the buzzers. The fourth one had someone at the desk. A room was $69 with the tax, better than expected for a resort community, even in the off season, so I was suspicious and asked to see the room. It turned out to be very clean and fresh with a newly renovated bathroom. I was impressed!

I packed my truck in such a way that everything I needed for a hotel room was in one bag, so it was easy to grab that bag, my computer bag, and my purse and  move into the room. I didn’t have to dig around for clothes, toiletries, and sundries and felt quite organized!

By the time I was settled in, I was beyond ready for dinner, so I went back down to the main strip and popped into the first place that was open, Buckaroo Bill’s. The wait to put in an order was so long I was actually putting on my coat when the server finally returned, but I stayed and settled in for a long wait for my food. To my surprise, it didn’t take that long, much less than the wait for the server to take the order!

I ordered the Tatanka burger, which is exactly what it says, a buffalo burger. It was just a meat patty, no seasonings in it at all. I much prefer the mild taste of buffalo to that of beef, so that was fine, especially after I added mustard, tomato, lettuce, and even the dill pickles! Buffalo is a very lean meat and can be quite dry if not cooked slowly. This burger while not juicy was quite moist. I was very happy with it! I decided to get sweet potato fries with it and their portion was positively unAmerican, small enough that I ate them all! The meal came to a ridiculous $10, plus a $2 tip! Do you know how much I have to pay to have buffalo in Saskatchewan?! And if someone had told me a few years ago that I would know anything about buffalo meat, I would have laughed!

I’m off to research Old Faithful and figure out roughly where I want to be tomorrow night. I would really rather not pay for a room again since I’ll need to take one over the weekend, so I may have to drive a bit. I have the room till 11:00, but will likely head out around 9:00, just in case there are detours to get to Old Faithful.

Oh, and it started sleeting the second I walked into my hotel room. Am I glad to be here and that I didn’t have to walk from restaurant in that mess!