3. Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming

Route:
Glacier National Park, MT – Bozeman, MT – Livingston, MT – Yellowstone National Park, WY


Statistics:
Miles Driven: 1945 miles (3130 km)
States Visited: 5
National Parks Visited: 3
Campfires enjoyed: 8


Although sad to be leaving Glacier, we were excited to reach Yellowstone at the same time. The first part of this leg of our journey was to take us near Helena, Montana. I have to admit; I’ve always considered Oregon to be the most beautiful place in the world (of course being a life-long Oregonian, I’m slightly biased). However, after driving across Montana… I can barely bring myself to actually write it down–it would feel blasphemous–but Montana is AMAZING! The mountains, the plains, the sky, I never understood why they call it “Big Sky Country” until now. It was the most scenic 3 ½ hours I’ve ever spent in a car.

Our generous friends, the Stutz family, whom we’ve never actually met face to face, offered to let use their cabin. The Windusts, who never turn down a free bed, quickly accepted. We arrived at the Stutz’s cabin around 5 PM. Overestimating my ability to back our tent trailer down their driveway, I nearly ended up sliding my father-in-law’s truck down a steep bank into the adjacent creek (Sorry Dave). After unhooking the trailer, and doing some creative work with the jack, we were able to get the trailer back up on the road and parked in a nearby turnout, which is what I clearly should have done in the first place. Being able to make a fire in the wood stove, settle into a perfect cabin by candle light, and have a lovely dinner is exactly what was needed to settle our frazzled nerves, that and a few sips of a hot toddy.

The next day started off in the capital city of Helena. One of the best things about life on the road is finding little gems where you aren’t expecting. The General Mercantile (www.generalmerc.com) coffee shop was one of those places. Filled with knick-knacks that kept Indi entertained, a cribbage board for Wendy and I, and good coffee. Our barista just also happened to be named Indi & we chatted with the owner for a while. He started the business when he was 25 and had been at it for nearly 40 years. That, and he correctly predicted that Wendy would beat me in cribbage despite a seemingly insurmountable lead that I had at the time. We hit the road and drove to the cute town of Livingston where we rented a small house to organize our camp gear, do laundry, and prepare for our stays in Yellowstone and Glacier Nat’l Park, part the less glamorous side of life on the road (Wendy’s upcoming post will detail all the nitty gritty details of living a nomadic life style). It was a relaxing couple of days and we found another delicious hole in the wall drive-in, Mark’s In and Out to enjoy our final prepared meal for a while.

General Mercantile in Helena, MT

General Mercantile in Helena

Mark's In And Out drive in Livingston

Mark’s In And Out drive in Livingston

Finally, we pulled into Yellowstone, our nation’s first national park—what we were most looking forward to on this trip—and it didn’t disappoint. As we waited to enter the park a herd of deer greeted us, and during our five days in the park we saw countless bison a few bears, and moose.

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Greeted at the park entrance by a nice rack

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Bison grazing across the stream from our campground

We reached the Norris Campground in the north of the park around 11 AM and got one of the last remaining spots. We were surprised that the camp remained full nearly our entire stay and how many people were in the park despite it being mid-week September. The Norris Campground was at a good location in the park, close to the many geysers and overrun by bison each morning and evening.

The Norris Geyser Basin, about 5 minutes from our camp, and when the wind blew just right it smelt even closer.

The Norris Geyser Basin, about 5 minutes from our camp, and when the wind blew just right it smelt even closer.

The weather could not have been better and it was sunny during our entire stay with highs consistently near 70 degrees, blue skies, and fluffy clouds to boot. At night it did get cold, slightly below freezing. I guess we should have been expecting as much since we were camping at almost 8000 feet. Our old tent trailer is not the most insulated vehicle, but our small propane heater worked well enough to take the edge off and keep us comfortable.

The required shot of Old Faithful

The required shot of Old Faithful

Yellowstone is truly an incredible park. The visitor centers are great and we all learned a lot about the region and history. And, of course, we did several incredible hikes. I was expecting Old Faithful, but there are over 10,000 geothermal features in the park, more than the rest of the world combined. Everywhere you turned there was a bubbling mud pit, exploding geyser, or steaming vent.

The Yellowstone Grand Canyon was magnificent as was Yellowstone Lake. However probably our best hike was to the lesser-known Ribbon Lake. The hike started with a bummed out little girl. The evening before Wendy and I spotted a bear but Indi missed it and she was worried she would go the week without seeing one. We suggested she say a little prayer to God in the parking lot before we start asking if she could see a bear, we stepped onto the trail and about 30 seconds later, wouldn’t you know it, a bear wandered down near the trail. The day before I had bought a can of bear spray after seeing about 100 signs saying you should carry it, at the time Indi told me spending almost $50 on bear spray was too much, but as we watched the bear from a safe distance, Indi changed her mind and told me that $50 was actually not too bad of a price.

Bear!!!

Bear!!!

Another mile up the trail we came to our first fork, Wendy and I both thought the other had brought the map. So after a few minutes of pointless bickering, we went the way we thought we were supposed to go, and naturally we guessed wrong. The good news was that this was one of those good mistakes that led us through wide-open plains, beautiful forests, and a great alpine lake. At one point we had to veer off of the trail due to two huge bison (are there any other kind?) blocking our path.

My Girls at Ribbon Lake

My Girls at Ribbon Lake

On our final day we wanted to get an early start to make sure we made it to Teton National Park early enough to get a campsite. It was chilly packing up camp at 6:30 in the morning and I’m sure our neighbors weren’t particularly happy with us. Regardless, we hit the road by 7:00 and were treated to a beautiful drive out of the park, enjoying a lovely sunrise as it burned off a low lying fog.

Grazing bison at sunrise

Grazing bison at sunrise

2. Glacier National Park, Montana

Route:
Rainier National Park, WA – Winthrop, WA – Sand Point, ID – Glacier National Park, MT


Statistics:
Miles Driven: 1607 miles (2586 km)
States Visited: 4
Campfires enjoyed: 6


After an amazing few days at Mt, Rainier, it was off to visit our second national park but, along the way, we had a few friends to catch up with first. Stop #1 was to visit a friend we worked with in Warsaw, who later became Indi’s totally awesome 5th grade teacher.  Catie is now living the dream in the funky western town of Winthrop, WA, loving cabin life and teaching at a local school. We visited earlier this summer and couldn’t wait to get back. Was this our last bit of summer weather for a while? If so, we wanted to take advantage of it with a swim in the nearby lake, sipping cold ones, while we watched firefighting helicopters scoop up buckets of water to put out hot spots from a recent fire– which forced Catie to evacuate her home (for the second year in a row) a few weeks ago. We even gave Catie’s husband and son–Scott & Brodi–a call in Warsaw where they will be for a bit longer before joining Catie in Winthrop.

Floating around on Patterson Lake near the Barber’s cabin

Facetime with the Barber Boys in Warsaw

Our next stop was catching up with some of Wendy’s old friends from her days attending college in Seattle, Nicole and Eric in Sandpoint, Idaho. On our way, we were able to stop by and visit the Grand Coulee Dam, one of the biggest dams in the world and an impressive structure with a great visitor center; highly recommended by all three Windusts (http://www.usbr.gov/pn/index.html) .

Real world education: reading closely to find key details in the description

Our hosts in Sandpoint could not have been more gracious and kind and we had a great evening getting to know Nicole & Eric’s amazing kids (Mitchell and adorable toddler MJ–we missed meeting Courtney, who was in Nicaragua), reminiscing about college experiences with Wendy, and catching up on everything that has happened in the past 20 years or so.

Nicole and Wendy with their “little” girls

Getting to see family and friends while on this trip is already one of the highlights. If you’re on our route and don’t want visitors, let us know, because otherwise we’re stopping by! Unfortunately, our time went far too quickly and we were off the next day to Glacier National Park.

Before reaching Glacier we noticed a trail head on the side of the road to Kootenai Falls, a great find. A short one mile hike brought us to a very cool suspension bridge, beautiful river, and waterfall. I’m looking forward to all the surprises in store for us over the next several months.

That’s Wendy & Indi up there

Glacier National Park… just WOW! I find it hard to describe in words so I’ll just let the photos do most of the talking. We stayed at Apgar Campground on Lake McDonald, near where we entered the park. One nice perk of camping near one of the park entrances was being close enough to a bar where I could go and watch my first live Monday Night Football game in 15 years. Other highlights included our four mile hike to Avalanche Lake, driving the Going-to-the-Sun Road (if it’s not the most beautiful road in the world, I’m not sure what is), seeing moose and mountain goats, and our three mile hike from Logan pass to the Hidden Lake Overlook.

View from Logan Pass while hiking the Highland Trail

View from Logan Pass while hiking the Highland Trail

Near the Hidden Lake Overlook

Near the Hidden Lake overlook

Hidden Lake

Hidden Lake

Lake McDonald near the Apgar Campground

Lake McDonald near the Apgar Campground

Wild Moose soaking their feet

Wild moose soaking their feet

And in this world of crazy coincidences, in a park that is 16,000 square miles big and has over 700 miles of trails, over 600 miles from home, I happened to bump into my Mom’s cousin Kathy on one of our hikes when I asked her if she was in line for an outhouse. Luckily, she recognized me which led to a great conversation on the hike back to our cars. Our visit carried over to dinner where her husband Mark prepared us all a delicious steak dinner back at their cabin later that evening, complete with rock skipping and a beaver sighting. Which just so happened to be about three minutes from where we were camping.

Running into Mark & Kathy on the trail

Running into Mark & Kathy on the trail

We truly just scratched the surface of this amazing park. I can’t wait to come back and do some exploring in the back country with my backpack and some more time.

Next stop: Yellowstone!

Resources:

Map of Glacier, NP

1. Mt. Rainier National Park, Washington

Route: Corbett, Oregon to Mt. Rainier National Park: 2.5 hours

On the way to Mt. Rainier, it was necessary to make a slight detour to indulge ourselves with the tender carnitas at our favorite restaurant in Centralia, Washington: La Tarasca

Bellies full, we headed to Mt. Rainier’s Nisqually gate and drove through Cougar Rock campground to look for a site. The campsites were small and without privacy so we drove on to Ohanapecosh campground and settled in to site F15. We ended up next to a bathroom (not a deal breaker) with a background of a burbling spring, surrounded by giants and their noisy inhabitants.

Sweet potato breakfast burritos

Sweet potato breakfast burritos

We went on two hikes: one easy, one harder. The first was to the Grove of the Patriarchs. We’d recommend this hike to everyone, young and old. It is a flat, easy 1.5 mile stroll through the giant hemlocks, Douglas firs and cedars. Indi loved the suspension bridge.

One at a time!

The second hike on the second day was the Skyline Trail Loop. This is a 5.5 mile loop with an optional shortcut (Golden Gate switchback) that will still give you four miles of glaciers, marmots (we saw five!), and views of the majestic 14,410 foot mountain known as “Tahoma” to the tribes native to this area. We’d recommend this hike to those who are in decent shape and don’t mind an elevation gain of 1700 feet. Bring snacks and water (there is water on the trail if you’d rather filter as you need it) and there is an awesome bathroom halfway through the hike at Panorama Point!

We headed from Mt. Rainier to Winthrop, WA–a 4 hour, 45 minute drive–to see our dear friend Catie Barber, who we played and worked with in Warsaw, Poland.

Relaxing with Catie on Patterson Lake

Relaxing with Catie on Patterson Lake

Resources:

Map of Mt. Rainier