EPIC US ROAD TRIP DAYS 7-10NORTHERN ROCKIES - WYOMING, MONTANA, IDAHO & NORTHERN UTAH
Image || Upper Geyser Basin, Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming.
Epic US Road Trip 2016 – The Northern Rockies
I suspected that the Northern Rockies were always going to be dominated by the geothermal wonderland that is Yellowstone National Park, definitely the world’s very first protected area & maybe its most famous. And so it proved. But there were regional highlights aplenty elsewhere from the Devils Tower, the All-American Beartooth Highway, the Mormon Row & the Americana overload that is the Yankee Doodle’s Cafe of ‘Forever West’ Wyoming, to Custer’s Last Stand in Montana, through to the Mormons & bears – and Bear Lake region – of southern Idaho & northern Utah. It was warm & dry, it was chilly & damp, and then it was warm & dry again. It was up, & it was down. It was 4 days, 4 states, 2 national parks, 2 national monuments, 2 national scenic byways & numerous state line crossings. It was 1,123 miles of a Northern Rockies road-trippin’ adventure.
Image || Custer’s ‘Last Stand’, Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument, Montana.
“… George Armstrong Custer and all 210 men under his direct command… were annihilated by an overwhelming force of Lakota, Cheyenne and Arapaho Plains Indian warriors. The devastating loss of a daring & highly decorated Civil War general caused uproar among the public with Custer, conveniently dead, taking the brunt of the blame.”
Day 7 || September 3 2016
Route || Deadwood to Billings, Montana (via Devils Tower National Monument, Wyoming & Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument, Montana)
Miles (Kilometres) Driven || 354 (570)
Posted From || Billings, Montana
Today’s Highlight || Custer’s ‘Last Stand’, a.k.a. Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument
We needed to be on the road early today, day 7. We weren’t. A slow breakfast and a quick final scoot around some as yet unseen Deadwood highlights meant we eventually departed a hot Deadwood (someone had turned the heat up overnight) later than planned, getting back on the road in the early afternoon to continue the drive west (northwest actually). Less than an hour later and we were at the South Dakota/Wyoming state line, the first of two we’d cross today but the only one we made a fuss over, en route to Billings, Montana, via not one but two US national monuments.
Save for the ubiquitous sign, you’d scarcely know you’d crossed a state line in most instances. However, here on Interstate 90 connecting South Dakota to Wyoming the frontier is a tad more obvious.
State Nicknames – Equality State (official); Cowboy State; Big Wyoming; Wonderful Wyoming. State Motto – Equal Rights. Admitted To The Union – July 1890 (44th state). Population – 587,000 (least populous state). Area – 97,800 sq miles (10th largest state). Capital – Cheyenne. National Parks – 2 (Yellowstone & Grand Teton). National Scenic Byways/All-American Roads – 0/1. Famous For – Yellowstone National Park; (Cheyenne) Frontier Days; cowboys; ranches; windswept prairies; bison. State Highlight – Yellowstone National Park. Wyoming Titbits – The state is the biggest producer of coal in the US; it’s the least populated US state – there are almost twice as many people in tiny Rhode Island, the country’s smallest state, 63 of which would fit into Wyoming; locals are called Wyomingites; Wyoming is one of only three states (along with Colorado & Utah) to have borders along only straight latitudinal & longitudinal lines rather than being defined by natural landmarks; Wyoming is one of only two states (the other being South Dakota) in the 48 contiguous states to not have a passenger rail service; Wyoming was the fist state in the US to grant women the right to vote; the state sport is rodeo & the iconic silhouette image of a “Bucking Horse and Rider” is a federal and state-registered trademark. Yee-haw!
Wyoming – Take I
This was to be a brief first foray into Wyoming. We’d be back of course but for now we were simply passing through the extreme northeast of the state en route northwest to Montana. A little over 200 miles of light-shaded Interstate 90 separates the ‘Welcome to Wyoming’ sign outside Beulah to the state line with Montana, with a detour of some 30 miles needed to take in the sight of the country’s very first national monument, and the first of two we’d visit on this day, the so-called Devils Tower.
– N. Scott Momaday, Native American author
Devils Tower – A Native American Legend
Many a Native American legend has been passed down through the years in an attempt to explain the formation of Devils Tower, but this version from the Kiowa Tribe seems to be the most popular.
One day an Indian tribe was camped beside the river and seven small girls were playing at a distance. The region had a large bear population and a bear began chasing the girls. They ran back towards their village, but the bear was about to catch them. The girls jumped up on the rock about three feet high and began to pray to the rock, “Rock, take pity on us; Rock, save us.”
The rock heard the young girls’ pleas and began to elongate itself upwards, pushing them higher and higher out of the bear’s reach. The bear clawed and jumped at the sides of the rock, but broke its claws and fell to the ground. The bear continued to jump at the rock until the girls were pushed up into the sky, where they are, to this day, in a group of seven little stars (the Pleiades constellation). Marks from the bear’s claws still line the sides of Devils Tower.
– Reproduced from DevilsTowerCountry.com
It’s over three hours of a drive from Devils Tower National Monument to what was to prove to be the highlight of road trip day 7 for me, the Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument, the site of Custer’s infamous ‘Last Stand’.
– Black Elk, Oglala Lakota
Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument
In June 1876 on a hill above a winding river called the Little Bighorn, and in one of the most infamous defeats in the history of the US military, George Armstrong Custer and all 210 men under his direct command, 5 whole companies (out of a total of 12 companies of the 7th Cavalry), were annihilated by an overwhelming force of Lakota, Cheyenne and Arapaho Plains Indian warriors. The devastating loss of a daring & highly decorated Civil War general caused uproar among the public with Custer, conveniently dead, taking the brunt of the blame. Located on the Crow Indian Reservation in Big Horn County, southern Montana, the site of Custer’s famous ‘Last Stand’ is probably the country’s best-known Native American battlefield, not to mention the reason we drove 280 miles to get here from Deadwood, South Dakota, passing through a portion of northeastern Wyoming (& over two state lines) in the process.
The Sioux Wars Darkest Days
Tension between the native inhabitants of the Great Plains of the US and the encroaching white European settlers in the latter half of the 19th Century resulted in a series of conflicts known as the Sioux Wars (1854-1890). The battle of Little Bighorn, known to the Plains Indians as the Battle of the Greasy Grass, was to be the darkest day of the Sioux Wars for the US Army, a victory that ultimately proved fruitless for the Indians who were to feel the full wrath of the US Government thereafter.
– White Bull, Cheyenne (1895)
Last Stand Hill & The 7th Cavalry Monument
Today the Little Bighorn battlefield, renamed in December 1991 from Custer Battlefield National Monument to Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument, serves as a memorial to those who fought and died in the battle. It’s a vast area of largely flat & windswept grassy ranch land and prairie, a highest point of which is the so-called & infamous Last Stand Hill.
– Two Moons, Cheyenne
– Red Feather, Lakota
– Low Dog, Lakota
Somewhat belatedly, it wasn’t until the 1990s that a monument to honor the Native American participation at the Battle of the Little Bighorn was erected, the result of many years of lobbying by Indian groups; it was as a result of this that the site was renamed, in 1991, from Custer Battlefield National Monument to Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument.
– A. Gay Kingman, Minniconjou Lakota, Testimony before Congress, 1991
– Austin Two Moons, Northern Cheyenne Elder, November 11, 1993
It was a 60-mile drive from Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument to Billings, Montana, our destination for this day. It was late evening on a Saturday pulling into town. It was quiet and we had difficulty believing this to be what it actually is, namely Montana’s largest city (although it’s not the capital… that’s Cheyenne… we’ll get there, eventually). Indeed, with a population of just over 100,000, happening Billings is the only city in the state to boast a 6-digit population. Nicknamed the ‘Magic City’ because of its rapid growth from its founding as a railroad town in March 1882, the city is continuing to have the largest growth of any city in Montana. We’re just passing through – we’ll be gone in the morning – so as a pit stop Billings and its Montana Brewing Company brewpub, about all we’re gonna have time to see of the city, will do just fine. Just fine indeed.
State Nicknames – Big Sky Country; The Treasure State. State Motto – Oro y Plata (Gold and Silver). Admitted To The Union – November 1889 (41st state). Population – 1 million (7th least populous state). Area – 147,000 sq miles (4th largest state). Capital – Helena. National Parks – 1 (Glacier). National Scenic Byways/All-American Roads – 0/1. Famous For – Nature; fishing; big wildlife; (even bigger) blue skies & clean, crisp, pine-scented air; Custer’s ‘Last Stand’. State Highlights – Wilderness; Glacier National Park. Montana Titbits – The state levies no sales tax; some of Montana’s highways didn’t have a set speed limit until the 1990s; Montana has more miles of wild trout rivers than any other state in the lower 48.
Image || Grand Prismatic Spring, Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming.
“Given its striking coloration (it’s not called Grand Prismatic for nothin’), Grand Prismatic Spring is one of the most photographed Yellowstone features – colours matching the rainbow dispersion of white light by an optical prism (red, orange, yellow, green and blue) are all present, some more prominent than others depending on the climatic conditions, the time of day and area of the spring itself being viewed.”
Day 8 || September 4 2016
Route || Billings to West Yellowstone, Montana (via the Beartooth Highway & Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming)
Miles (Kilometres) Driven || 262 (421)
Posted From || West Yellowstone, Montana
Today’s Highlight || Grand Prismatic Spring, Yellowstone National Park
We awoke today to a miserable Sunday, Labor Day Sunday no less. Chilly & wet. Very wet. We were hopeful over our Denny’s breakfast in Billings that conditions would improve as the day progressed such that our much-anticipated drive over the Beartooth Pass en route to Yellowstone National Park, the two obvious (high) highlights for road trip day 8, would be something other than a total nonevent. Doubtless we’d need our rain jackets for the first time on the trip (we did) and although not much rain fell from the filthy sky, the clouds, stubborn buggers, did indeed hang around for the whole day. That said, they limited their killjoy antics somewhat; they either blanked the awe, like on the Beartooth Pass earlier in the day, or they added to it, as in Yellowstone National Park towards the end of it. It was a swings & roundabouts, a pluses & minuses, an up & down (literally) kind of day. A wet, damp, chilly day that saw us turning off the air-con in the Hyundai Accent and turning on the heating for the first time. But it was still a memorable day. Of course it was.
We arrived at the start of the Beartooth Highway, our first All-American Road of the road trip, at 1 p.m. Conditions hadn’t improved much from earlier, if at all, and nor did they as we progressed up and up into the clouds.
All-American Road #1 – The Beartooth Highway
Opened in June 1936, the Beartooth Highway, a National Scenic Byways All-American Road, is a 67-mile stretch of US Highway 212 which winds its way through southwest Montana and northwest Wyoming and leads to the Northeastern Entrance to Yellowstone National Park. Offering breathtaking views of the Absaroka and Beartooth Mountains of Wyoming and Montana, the route, dubbed “the most beautiful drive in America”, climbs to an altitude of 10,947 feet (3,336 metres) at the Beartooth Pass. Closed in winter, the route’s numerous high alpine plateaus dotted with countless glacial lakes, forested valleys, waterfalls, and wildlife ensure one hell of a scenic drive assuming, of course, the weather plays ball. It didn’t today.
– DangerousRoads.org commenting on the Beartooth Highway
National Scenic Byways & All-American Roads
While each state can and does designate its own Scenic Byways, a National Scenic Byway is a road recognized by the US Department of Transportation for one or more of six “intrinsic qualities”: archaeological, cultural, historic, natural, recreational, and scenic. The program was established by Congress in 1991 to preserve and protect the nation’s scenic but often less-travelled roads and promote tourism and economic development. The National Scenic Byways Program (NSBP) is administered by the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA).
The most scenic byways are designated All-American Roads. These roads must meet two out of the six intrinsic qualities. An All-American designation means these roads have features that do not exist elsewhere in the US and are unique and important enough to be tourist destinations unto themselves.
As of November 2010 there are 120 National Scenic Byways and 31 All-American Roads located in 46 states (all except Hawaii, Nebraska, Rhode Island and Texas).
Periodic breaks in the clouds meant we were treated to fleeting glimpses of distant valleys, high-alpine lakes, & far-off peaks, of which there are 20 above 12,000 ft (3,657 metres) in the vicinity. We rounded countless blind corners; we tackled numerous switchbacks; we were presented with hundreds of 20 M.P.H. signs; & we passed dozens of scenic lookouts, some of which we actually stopped at in the hopes of seeing something. We rarely did; cloud-enveloped scenic lookouts are just not that scenic. At least it never rained up there.
Yellowstone National Park – First Glimpses
Timing. By mid-afternoon we had descended from the Beartooth Pass to the Northeast Entrance of Yellowstone National Park, one of 5 entrances to the park. It was obvious that it had not long since stopped raining. The weather was fast improving, the sun breaking through the fragmented clouds with blissful regularity and causing steam to rise from the road surface and from the surrounding foliage. The misty shimmer of our very first glimpses of the greenery on the fringes of Yellowstone ensured it was a beautiful & memorable scene, not to mention a good omen for our pending introduction to one of the world’s most famous protected wilderness areas.
Yellowstone National Park
Size: 2,191,791 acres/8,870 km². Founded: 1872. Annual Visitors: 4.1 million (5th most visited).
This, the first U.S. national park, in part owes its physical asset to the active volcano that lies beneath its surface, where the Park Service says there’s enough magma to fill the Grand Canyon about 11 times.
Seismologist Robert B. Smith has described the park as “an active geologic laboratory — and the laboratory is alive.”
That living landscape speaks through 10,000 hydrothermal features: hissing fumaroles (steam vents), spewing geysers and gurgling mud pots. Old Faithful geyser, the most well-known, erupts about 17 times a day.
The subterranean side of Yellowstone is what the Park Service has called a pressure cooker. Aboveground, much of Yellowstone is a protected paradise. Its beauty became widely known when photographer William Henry Jackson documented the region for the U.S. Geological and Geographical Survey of the Territories. His images helped inspire Congress to establish the park.
– John Steinbeck, author, in “Travels with Charley: In Search of America”
Yellowstone is large, with 17 rivers, 290 waterfalls, five entrances, 4,000 bison and acreage spanning portions of three states (96 percent in Wyoming, 3 percent in Montana and 1 percent in Idaho). It has the largest lake on the continent at a high elevation (7,733 feet).
Yellowstone is home to the largest concentration of mammals in the lower 48. In addition to bison, those inhabitants include grizzly bears, wolves, lynxes, foxes, moose and elk.
Humans also have left their mark on this western range. It has 26 associated Native American tribes, 466 miles of roads (310 miles paved) and more than 900 historic buildings. Included among those vintage structures are Old Faithful Inn and the Lake Hotel, built in 1891, the oldest operating hotel in the park.
Also here is an unexpected category: “other life forms.” That “other” is heat-loving bacteria, which create the ribbons of color in hot water.
As the Park Service explains, the green, brown and orange mats are cyanobacteria, which can thrive in waters as hot as 167 degrees. Here, the colors are visible in the Grand Prismatic Spring at Midway Geyser Basin. Grand Prismatic is the largest hot spring in the country and the third largest in the world.
In 1871, well before color photography could document the vibrant phenomenon, Ferdinand Hayden, leader of the U.S. Geological Survey expedition, described the hot spring’s “peculiar vividness and delicacy of color [from] nature’s cunning skill.”
From The Washington Post – The Essential guide to all 59 U.S. national parks.
– UNESCO commenting on Yellowstone National Park
– Americansouthwest.net commenting on Yellowstone National Park
Yellowstone National Park
Incomparable Yellowstone National Park, one of Mother Nature’s most fabulous creations, is easily Wyoming’s flagship attraction, and it would attract more than the 4.1 million people a year it does attract if not for its remote location and limited visitor season – the park’s northerly location & high elevation (mostly over 7,500 feet/2,300 metres) means it is only fully accessible for seven months a year. A massive wildlife-heavy geothermal wonderland, it was America’s, indeed the world’s very first national park when it was established in March of 1872, a full 20 years prior to Montana, Idaho & Wyoming being granted statehood. Today the park is a protected habitat for an array of wonderful wildlife, everything from bighorn sheep to shaggy grizzlies to giant moose to wolves to bison; it is a vast region of spectacular geography, a cornucopia of alpine lakes, rivers, waterfalls, canyons, & mountain ranges; and of course the park boasts an unrivaled array of active geothermal features such as spouting geysers, boiling mud pools, hissing fumaroles, & colourful hot spots, over 10,000 geothermal features in total, one-half of all such features found on planet earth.
Yellowstone – Protected, For Now
Location location. Given Yellowstone’s national park & UNESCO-listed status, its treasures are protected for eternity, or at least until it decides to blow again. With volcanism at its heart, Yellowstone National Park sits snug atop a 45 mile (72 km) x 30 mile (48 km) caldera of not only the world’s largest active supervolcano but also the only one of the world’s 30+ supervolcanoes to be located on land. Estimates say it – the supervolcano – first erupted about 2 million years ago, then again about 1.3 million years ago, and most recently about 640,000 years ago, the latter eruption collapsing the central part of the present-day park and leaving it as we see it today. The clock is ticking on the next eruption, one which – gosh – has the potential to wipe out two-thirds of the US. The end might indeed be nigh; volcano levels have been rising at a record rate since 2004 with the magma floor rising three inches per year each year between 2009 & 2011 alone, the fastest rate since records began in 1923.
Yellowstone – Day 1 – Introduction & The Grand Loop Road Scenic Drive
At 3,424-sq-miles (8,870 km²), Yellowstone is rather big; it’s larger than the states of Rhode Island & Delaware combined and it’s approximately the same size as the Caribbean island of Puerto Rico. The park is split into 5 regions, representing the five distinct ecosystems found within its borders – Roosevelt Country, Mammoth Country, Canyon Country, Lake Country, & Geyser Country. While Yellowstone’s backcountry offers almost 1,000 miles of hiking trails, the majority of the park’s highlight features, especially its geothermal delights, are accessible via the paved Grand Loop Road scenic drive, a 142-mile (230-kilometre) circle drive in the very heart of the park. The loop connects visitors to every classic gem from all but 1 of the park’s 5 regions, missing out only on the remote, scenic & underdeveloped Roosevelt Country in the northeast of the park, somewhat ironically the region we first drove into today having descended from the cloudy heights of the Beartooth Highway. We have tomorrow set aside for a more in-depth exploration of the park via the Grand Loop Road scenic drive, but late afternoon today saw us passing through Mammoth Country & south into Geyser Country en route to our overnight location of West Yellowstone, Montana. This is some of what we saw.
Mammoth Country – Hot Springs & Terraces
A 50-mile drive from the park’s Northeast Entrance and through Roosevelt Country‘s Lamar Valley following the course of the Lamar River, popular with fishermen, brought us into Mammoth Country in the north of the park. In a park awash with geothermal activity, Mammoth Country in particular is home to the continent’s most volatile and oldest-known continuously active (115,000 years, give or take) thermal area, Mammoth Hot Springs.
Geyser Country – Hot Springs & Geysers
Heading south from Mammoth Country brings to you Geyser Country at the western & southwestern portion of the Grand Loop Road scenic drive. Itself split into 5 so-called geyser basins – West Thumb, Upper, Midway, Lower, & Norris – this is probably the most visited region of Yellowstone and for good reason as it boasts the largest concentration of active geysers on the planet; two-thirds of all the world’s geysers are found within Yellowstone’s boundaries, the majority of them here. Our destination was Old Faithful, the most famous geyser of them all located in the Upper Geyser Basin, but en route we stopped off at Grand Prismatic Spring of Midway Geyser Basin, 50 miles from Mammoth Hot Springs and somewhere that was to be the highlight of road trip day 8 for me.
Although the weather had improved since descending from the Beartooth Pass earlier in the day, it was still very chilly and overcast when at the Midway Geyser Basin. It was late in the day when these pictures were captured (approximately 19:30), the setting sun sporadically breaking through the cloud cover. This coupled with the thermal steam and mirror-like reflections made for some gorgeous scenes along the 800 metres of elevated wooden boardwalks that provide access to the edge of the scenic steaming spring.
We did make it to Old Faithful, our last stop on this day, 7 miles further south from Grand Prismatic Spring. It was dusk (20:30), it was cold, Old Faithful wasn’t scheduled to entertain again for over an hour (by which time darkness would have fully descended), and we still had a 1-hour drive ahead of us to get to West Yellowstone, Montana, 30 miles away & our overnight location for this day. So we left safe in the knowledge that we’d be back tomorrow, road trip day 9, another day sampling Yellowstone’s many geothermal wonders.
Image || Buildings on Mormon Row, Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming.
“Settled as Grovont but commonly known today as Mormon Row, the settlement… once had 33 homesteads surrounding a church and a school. Today buildings from only 6 homesteads remain. This is one of the most photogenic of all the remaining structures, the so-called Pink House of the John Moulton Homestead (also seen here is the small homestead outhouse, and a bleak prospect it would have been to visit that in the depths of a Grand Teton winter).”
Day 9 || September 5 2016
Route || West Yellowstone to Jackson, Wyoming (via Yellowstone National Park & Grand Teton National Park)
Miles (Kilometres) Driven || 227 (365)
Posted From || Jackson, Wyoming
Today’s Highlight || The thermal wonders of Yellowstone National Park.
It was Labor Day today, the unofficial end of the summer. That figures. There was certainly no summer feel around these parts, not for the bulk of the day. It was a chilly, damp, & sometimes wet outing as we continued to sample the geographical features, thermal wonders, and wildlife of Yellowstone National Park. Climatic conditions, and just as they did yesterday, improved towards the very end of the day, so much so that it was almost too nice when driving south through neighboring Grand Teton National Park. One day, two national parks, and two very different climatic outlooks on Epic US Road Trip day 9.
Yellowstone National Park – Day 2 – Grand Loop Road Scenic Drive, Take II
Bidding adieu to Montana’s West Yellowstone, a rather charmless place on the outskirts of the park – and across the state line – whose only purpose seems to be to cater for & overcharge the hordes who descend on Yellowstone, we returned to the park to rejoin the Grand Loop Road Scenic Drive we first sampled yesterday. Our first on this day as we embarked on a clockwise drive of the Grand Loop Road was Gibbon Falls, 19 miles from West Yellowstone. While this is where the park’s Gibbon River tumbles for some 84 feet, we stopped here to catch a glimpse of the remnants of the enormous volcanic caldera left behind after the last eruption of the supervolcano Yellowstone sits atop approximately 640,000 years ago. Unfortunately it was raining and we didn’t see a whole lot.
Moving on, it was still raining when we arrived at the nearby Artists Paintpots, 5 miles from Gibbon Falls.
Canyon Country – Canyons & Waterfalls
Twenty miles from the Artists Paintpots, and just outside Canyon Village in Canyon Country, is Yellowstone’s very own Grand Canyon.
– Nathaniel P. Langford, 1870, one of the first explorers to record his impressions of the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone River
Yellowstone National Park has the largest concentration of free roaming wildlife in all of the lower 48 states. The park is home to Black & Grizzly Bears (with a healthy population of some 150, Yellowstone has the greatest concentration of grizzlies south of Canada); several hundred Wolves, flourishing since their reintroduction in 1995; Elk; Moose; Deer; Bighorn sheep; Coyotes; Pronghorn; and numerous smaller species. The most commonly spotted Yellowstone resident, especially if not venturing further into the park and away from the Grand Loop Road scenic drive, is the iconic Bison. a.k.a. the American Buffalo, large shaggy-haired meanderers of the North American plains that can weigh up to 2,000 pounds (900+ kilograms).
Geyser Country – Upper Geyser Basin – Old Faithful, Take II
Continuing for 50 miles through Hayden Valley and via the northwestern shores of Yellowstone Lake, the centrepiece of Lake Country and the largest freshwater high-alpine lake in North America, brought us back to the Geyser Country’s Upper Geyser Basin some 19 hours after leaving it late the previous evening. We had to wait around for a while in the biting chill but we eventually got to see Yellowstone’s most famous resident do what he does without fail approximately 17 times a day. Faithful indeed.
It was an overcast & cold 4°C when we were arriving at Upper Gyser Basin, a biting wind blowing light sideways hale for a period when we were standing on the Old Faithful boardwalk awaiting the start of the show. It felt anything but early September. But that same wind also blew the clouds away and as the performance began the sky was quickly clearing from the north, to the left of Old Faithful as we faced him. Again, and just like earlier in the day at the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone River in Canyon Country, the weather improved right on cue.
Geyser Hill & Old Faithful Historic District
Old Faithful hogs most of limelight but he’s only one of many geothermal features in Geyser Country’s Upper Geyser Basin, home to the largest concentration of geysers in the world. An array of hydrothermal features on Geyser Hill behind Old Faithful can easily be explored via a loop on raised boardwalks – more colourful hot springs, fumeroles, mudpots and, of course, geysers. We explored the area in (mostly) beautiful sunshine, the likes of which we hadn’t been treated to in days, but only after a sustenance stop in the cozy but busy innards of the 1923 wood-shingled Old Faithful Lodge. With large floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking Old Faithful itself, the log cabin-style lodge is part of the wider Old Faithful Historic District, the concentration of historic wooden buildings located in the vicinity of the world’s most famous geyser.
Yellowstone to Grand Teton
It was a 1-hour, 40-mile drive south from Old Faithful to the Southern Entrance of Yellowstone National Park, and a further 7 miles via the John D. Rockefeller Jr. Memorial Parkway to the official northern boundary of Grand Teton National Park.
Grand Teton National Park
Size: 310,044 acres/1,255 km². Founded: 1929. Annual Visitors: 3.1 million.
The superlatives “awesome” and “amazing” have been diminished by overuse. But we still have “majestic.” And there are still landscapes — including here — that merit that description.
Majestic might also apply to the creatures that populate the ground that surrounds the Teton peaks. Park inhabitants include bison, weighing in at as much as 2,000 pounds, and calliope hummingbirds, as light as two paper clips.
– President Theodore Roosevelt
The tiny calliope breeds in the chilly mountain environments and is remarkable for being the smallest bird in the United States and Canada and the smallest long-distance avian migrant in the world, according to Cornell University.
The beauty that surrounds such creatures is, like them, both grand and subtle. They all play a role in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, which encompasses this park, Yellowstone Park and portions of Wyoming, Montana and Idaho.
This vast network of flora, fauna and geology is a significant interconnected environment. Here, grass is essential for the soil and for the animals it feeds. Tickle grass and tufted hair grass, among others, tint the vistas with subtle hues.
The land here beside the city of Jackson Hole also fed early tribal inhabitants. Native Americans roasted camas bulbs, for example, in underground pits.
Today Grand Teton, named for the main peak, feeds visitors’ hunger for nature and recreation. Activities include mountaineering, hiking, backpacking, bicycling, fishing, boating, floating, skiing, snowshoeing and, of course, sightseeing.
Among the hiking trails is the Paintbrush and Cascade canyons’ 18-mile loop. The Wilderness Society says this route offers “winning views” of the Cathedral Group, which are the tallest peaks in the Teton Range.
The panoramas here have attracted moviemakers. Grand Teton has served as a backdrop for parts of “Django Unchained,” “Rocky IV” and “Shane.”
From The Washington Post – The Essential guide to all 59 U.S. national parks.
– Americansouthwest.net commenting on Grand Teton National Park
It was late in the day – 18:30 – when we found ourselves driving US Highway 191 south through Grand Teton’s Snake River valley with the spectacular 30-mile-long stretch of the twelve glacier-carved summits of the Teton Range, all above 12,000 feet & collectively one of the nation’s most awe-inspiring landscapes towering as they did above the flatlands to the west/our right. Always to the west/our right. The sun too, it, and having been absent for the majority of the day, now seemingly determined to make up for lost time. Still yet to disappear behind the jagged wall of the Teton peaks, its intrusiveness rendered it impossible to photograph the Tetons themselves – this is a place to visit in the morning when the sun is rising from the east, not the evening when it’s setting to the west.
We continued on, keeping a close eye on the progress of the sinking sun. While its presence was a nuisance where photographing the Teton Range was concerned, I was hoping for its company at our destination towards the southern end of the park, the historic buildings of the park’s Mormon Row.
Mormon Row is a line of homestead complexes near the southeast corner of Grand Teton National Park. The locale was settled in the 1890s by Mormon migrants from Idaho in search of new settlements to support their expanding population. As per Mormon tendencies to create clustered communities, to enable the sharing of labor & community, Mormon Row was developed as a line village, a relatively dense development of buildings clustered along the line of a connecting road – Mormon Row Road – & allowing for extensive pasturage along either side behind the buildings, a development style in stark contrast to the isolated homesteads elsewhere in the region. Placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1997, today Mormon Row is a popular destination for tourists and (especially) photographers on account of the historic buildings, the herds of bison that tend to roam the flat grassland (nowhere to be seen today) and, of course, the presence of the spectacular Teton Range as a backdrop.
We didn’t plan on holing up overnight in Jackson but rolling into town close on 9 p.m. meant it was convenient to do so; Jackson is only a short 15-mile drive south of Mormon Row beyond the Southern boundary of Grand Teton National Park. Again we’re just passing through and will be continuing on our merry way in the morning. We could have picked a worse place to spend the night, the high prices aside – as the southern gateway to both Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Park, you can bank on frontier-esque Jackson being busy & things being a tad more pricey than they probably should be. That said, it’s a pretty little town. Friendly too, so friendly in fact that people have taken notice. Yes, we could have picked worse indeed, but then again there are 7 better, friendlier options unfortunately none of which were tonight as conveniently located to Grand Teton National Park as Jackson was.
– Conde Nast Traveler commenting on Jackson, Wyoming, which they voted to be the 8th friendliest city in the US 2015. (link)
Image || Abandoned. Church & 1955 DeSoto. Montpelier, Idaho.
“This caught our attention and made us pull over as we were leaving Montpelier, an abandoned 1955 DeSoto, an American automobile marque that was manufactured by the DeSoto Division of the Chrysler Corporation between 1928 and 1961. Today this DeSoto sits by the side of the road, a restoration project just waiting to happen – a ‘For Sale’ sign also provides a number to call for interested buyers.”
Day 10 || September 6 2016
Route || Jackson, Wyoming, to Salt Lake City, Utah (via Alpine, Wyoming; & Montpelier, Paris, & Bear Lake, Idaho)
Miles (Kilometres) Driven || 280 (450)
Posted From || Salt Lake City, Utah
Today’s Highlight || The Utah State Capitol Building
After the hectic last few days of the Labor Day weekend we envisaged today, road trip day 10, to be something of a down day. Upon first glance the almost 300-mile drive south from Jackson, Wyoming, to Salt Lake City, Utah, via a small portion of southeast Idaho, doesn’t seem to offer up many distractions. The highlight today was to be northern Utah’s 41-mile-long Logan Canyon Scenic Byway – we chose our route south to incorporate that. As it turned out that scenic road wasn’t all that scenic. Dusty yes, scenic not so much. Today was special for other reasons. Many other reasons. We didn’t bank on the Americana overload of the Yankee Doodle’s Café in Alpine, Wyoming; the scenery of the Salt River Pass of western Wyoming’s Salt River Range; the photogenic castoffs in bear-fetish Montpelier, Idaho; the famous Tabernacle in Paris, Idaho, the most photogenic remnant of the region’s pioneering Mormon past; the region’s gorgeous aquamarine Bear Lake, the so-called ‘Caribbean of the Rockies’; and nor did we bank on sunset from the steps of the impressive Utah State Capitol Building in polished Salt Lake City being the memorable spectacle it proved to be. Throw into the mix two state line crossings and brilliant uninterrupted sunshine from sunup to sundown and you’ve got the ingredients for a long day of unexpected photogenic treats.
U.S. Highway 89 – The West’s Most Western Highway
Although we drove a portion of it yesterday in getting from the southern entrance of Yellowstone National Park to Jackson (via Grand Teton National Park), today will be the first day heading south via US Highway 89. This north-south backbone of the Rockies connects Canada to Mexico and was once billed by National Geographic as “The #1 Drivers’ Drive in the World”. It is sometimes called the National Park Highway as it links seven national parks, five of which we plan on visiting & two of which – Yellowstone & Grand Teton – we already have. We’ll follow the road south from here all the way to Page, Arizona, some 650 miles & three days’ drive from here via 3 (more) national parks and no doubt many, many more scenic highlights.
The chill in the air aside, the brilliant sunshine we woke to today in Jackson was a welcome change from the inclement conditions we’d woken to the previous two mornings of the trip. With the benefit of hindsight, opting not to breakfast in Jackson itself was an inspired decision as it meant we did stop at the Yankee Doodle’s Cafe in Alpine, 37 miles south of Jackson at the end of the Snake River Canyon. A commonplace an event as breakfast tends to be, today it proved to be the first of many road trip day 10 highlights.
The stretch of US Highway 89 south of Alpine passes though western Wyoming farmland and quiet cowboy towns. It’s all ranches and irrigation – there’s certainly a healthy reliance on water around these parched parts. Fifty miles from Alpine we reached the Salt River Pass where there was something to read, reason enough to stop, stretch our legs and bask in the sun (not really, but it was nice).
A further 10 miles along US Highway 89, and after descending from the heights of the Salt River Pass, we reached the Wyoming-Idaho state line, bringing an end to our time, for now, in Wyoming.
State Nickname – Gem State. State Motto – Esto Perpetua (Let It Be Perpetual). Admitted To The Union – July 1890 (43rd state). Population – 1.6 million (12th least populous state). Area – 83,600 sq miles (14th largest state). Capital – Boise. National Parks – 0. National Scenic Byways/All-American Roads – 4/2. Famous For – Potatoes; outdoor adventure options. State Highlights – All that blue-green backcountry wilderness. Idaho Titbits – Idaho has more protected wilderness areas and national forest than any state not called Alaska; the locals are called Idahoans; measuring only 45 miles (72 kilometres), Idaho shares the shortest land border of all the 13 US states that share a border with Canada; Idaho is among the few states in the nation without a major freeway linking its two largest metropolitan areas, Boise in the south and Coeur d’Alene in the north; the state boasts two time zones; nearly every known type of gemstone has been found here, hence the nickname ‘Gem State’; Idaho produces one-third of the potatoes grown in the US, the humble spud is the official state vegetable, & ‘Famous Potatoes’ even makes an appearance on the state vehicle registration plate.
Surprised indeed. We drove all 42 miles of US Highway 89 through the extreme southeast corner of Idaho, the stretch of highway connecting the Wyoming/Idaho & Idaho/Utah state lines. We spent a little over 3 hours in the state. Far from just being a conduit, what I saw today off Idaho’s US Highway 89 has me hankering for a return to do the rest of the state justice.
Seventeen miles across the state line via US Highway 89 is Montpelier, the largest community in the Bear Lake Valley, a farming region north of Bear Lake that was settled in 1863 by Mormon pioneers on the route of the old Oregon Trail. We stopped off for petrol (gas), quickly noticing the town has a fixation with bears. Bear statues abound. There were even bears offering us a seat. We duly obliged.
It’s only 10 miles south on US Highway 89 from Montpelier to Paris, another pioneer town that was founded in September 1863 when a wagon train brought more than 30 families of Mormon colonisers. More soon followed and within a year nearly 1,000 people lived here and all of whom believed they had settled in Utah; it wasn’t until a boundary survey was completed almost a decade later in 1872 that they discovered they were actually living in Idaho. Close – Paris is only 17 miles north of the Utah state line – but no cigar.
Leaving Paris and the photogenic hits just kept on coming. It’s only a further few miles south down US Highway 89 to the northern shores of fulgent Bear Lake.
– Warren Angus Ferris, Mountain Man (1832)
Idaho-Utah State Line
Equidistant along the western shore of Bear Lake is the Idaho-Utah state line, bringing an end to our brief visit to the 7th state of the road trip. Next up Utah, a state that I suspect is going to be a bit special.
State Nickname – Beehive State. State Motto – Industry. Admitted To The Union – January 1896 (45th state). Population – 3 million (20th least populous state). Area – 84,900 sq miles (13th largest state). Capital – Salt Lake City. National Parks – 5 (Arches, Bryce Canyon, Canyonlands, Capitol Reef & Zion). National Scenic Byways/All-American Roads – 7/1. Famous For – Mormons; geographic grandeur; skiing; being a hard place to get a beer. State Highlights – Polished Salt Lake City & its Temple Square; scenic southern red sandstone landscapes. Utah Titbits – Utah is the only state with a majority population belonging to a single church, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints; in 2012, the state was voted as the “best state to live in” based on 13 forward-looking economic, lifestyle & health-related measurements; Utah is the only state where every county within its borders contains some national forest; Utah has the lowest percentage of births out of wedlock but also the highest total birth rate and thus the youngest population of any US state; although originated in Kentucky, Salt Lake City hosted the very first KFC franchise; with strict laws regarding alcohol, tobacco & gambling, Utah is also one of only two states in the US, the other being Hawaii, to outlaw all forms of gambling. Boring.
Utah, The Mormons & Road-trippin'
I did a lot of research prior to hitting the US road. Utah, and somewhat unexpectedly, got me excited more than any other state. Aside from the state’s fascinating Mormon history and a desire to experience for myself the showcase Mormon capital of Salt Lake City, I was to learn pre-departure that between the pine-forested mountain valleys in the north of the state and the red-rock canyon & desert country of its south, multi-coloured Utah boasts an enviable number of national parks – 5, second only to Alaska & California (8 each) – and a total of 8 scenic byways meaning the state is one endless road trip. It was mostly VisitUtah.com that perked my interest, the best of the many state tourist board websites I perused – it’s awash with information, pictures, videos, (downloadable) maps and road trip itineraries. Fodor’s, a leading name in travel recommendations for almost 80 years, did their bit, too. Their ‘Go List’ for 2016, a yearly list of 25 can’t-miss spots around the world, topped out with Utah at number 1, claiming that it “defies expectations” and that it is “Utah the place to get outdoors in 2016.” Don’t mind if I do.
Utah & The Mormons
Fleeing religious persecution in Illinois – which included the death of their founder, Joseph Smith, in 1844 – & led by Bringham Young, members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, a.k.a. LDS or Mormons, arrived in the region in July 1847. Feeling a spiritual connection to the place, they claimed it as their new home, their Zion, establishing Salt Lake City in July of that year.
Repeated petitions for statehood to the US government, which had only taken control of Utah from Mexico in February 1848, were rejected, the US government not liking the Mormon’s polygamist ways. Eventually concessions were made, wives forfeited (the LDS Church banned polygamy in its Manifesto of 1890) and Utah joined the union in 1896. Today approximately 62% of 3 million Utahans are Mormons with, and as one might expect, the church greatly influencing state culture and daily life.
Utah & Road-Trippin’
National Scenic Byway #2 – Logan Canyon Scenic Byway
With 7 National Scenic Byways and 1 All-American Road, maybe Utah really does have ‘the cure for your carcolepsy.’ It didn’t take long after crossing over the Utah state line before we reached Garden City, a popular summer resort town on the shores of Bear Lake and the start/end of the state’s Logan Canyon Scenic Byway.
An Ill-Fated Logan Canyon Scenic Byway Adventure Sidetrip
Approximately half way along the Logan Canyon Scenic Byway of US Highway 89 is a turnoff for the unpaved Temple Fork Road. Having being introduced to him earlier in the day in Montpelier, Idaho, we decided to tackle this road in a bid to visit the grave of Old Ephraim, said to be the last grizzly bear to have lived in this region. Things didn’t quite go to plan.
The rest of this day was spent driving the remaining 100 miles to Salt Lake City, a drive that did little to rid us of the dust. We arrived looking very gauche in the polished Utah capital. It was a balmy 24°C, the 4°C of yesterday in Yellowstone National Park a distant memory. We were in dire need of a car wash. Instead, however, we headed straight for the highest point of the city, Capitol Hill, home to the impressive Utah State Capitol, the main building of the wider 40-acre Utah State Capitol Complex. Looking so inviting when bathed in the late afternoon sunlight, the building’s massive Utah granite facade and Corinthian-style lines beckoned us from afar.
Salt Lake City
Salt Lake City is located in the northeast corner of the Salt Lake Valley surrounded by the Great Salt Lake and the steep Wasatch and Oquirrh mountain ranges. The city that stands here today was founded in July 1847 when Brigham Young famously led Mormon pioneers into the valley declaring “This is the right place, drive on.” At the time the region was part of Mexico – it wasn’t until February of 1848 that it became US land. The early pioneers extensively irrigated and cultivated the arid valley floor, the ancient lakebed of Lake Bonneville, an extension of the nearby Great Salt Lake which existed at the end of the last Ice Age. The city prospered and became the capital of the Utah Territory in 1858 and then the state capital of the new state of Utah in 1896, but only after the Mormons, who had petitioned for statehood since just after the city’s formation, agreed to give up their polygamist ways. Today SLC has a population of just under 200,000 making it the most populous municipality in Utah. Very much a gateway city for travellers en route to the world-class ski resorts in the surrounding hills, the renowned red rock country to the south, or to the wonders of Yellowstone & Grand Teton national parks to the north, the vibrant city itself, thrust into the international limelight by hosting the 2002 Winter Olympics, is becoming more of an attraction in its own right and a place that hasn’t yet been “discovered” by the masses.
Like most state Capitol buildings not in Washington D.C., the Utah State Capitol is fully open to the public with tours running at regular intervals. No tours were scheduled when we were taking a look around (it was late in the evening) but we had unrestricted access to the building’s stunning interior, no doubt looking all the more dapper for the mid-2000s restoration.
Salt Lake City today was easy. Finding accommodation in the central North Temple Inn, a few blocks from the city’s famed Temple Square, the spiritual heart of Utah; utilising the TRAX, SLC’s awesome light rail system, into central downtown where the service can be used for free; and finding somewhere to eat (& drink). It was all very easy. All very straightforward. The only problem, which wasn’t really a problem at all, was the keeping abreast of the state’s alcohol laws.
THE UPPER MIDWEST || Wisconsin & Minnesota
DAY 01 139 miles || Chicago’s O’Hare Airport to Madison, Wisconsin
DAY 02 302 miles || Madison to Saint Paul, Minnesota (via Pewit’s Nest State Natural Area & Prescott, Wisconsin)
DAY 03 259 miles || Saint Paul to Bemidji, Minnesota (via St Cloud, Brainard & Walker, Minnesota)
THE DAKOTAS || North & South Dakota
DAY 04 458 miles || Bemidji to Bismarck, North Dakota (via Grand Forks, Lakota & Rugby, North Dakota)
DAY 05 459 miles || Bismarck to Deadwood, South Dakota (via Fort Yates, North Dakota & Badlands National Park, South Dakota)
DAY 06 167 miles || Deadwood & The Black Hills (Mount Rushmore National Memorial & Crazy Horse Memorial)
THE NORTHERN ROCKIES || Wyoming, Montana, Idaho, & Northern Utah
DAY 07 354 miles || Deadwood to Billings, Montana (via Devil’s Tower & Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monuments)
DAY 08 262 miles || Billings to West Yellowstone, Montana (via the Beartooth Highway & Yellowstone National Park)
DAY 09 227 miles || West Yellowstone to Jackson, Wyoming (via Yellowstone National Park & Grand Teton National Park)
DAY 10 280 miles || Jackson to Salt Lake City, Utah (via Alpine, Wyoming; & Montpelier, Paris, & Bear Lake, Idaho)
THE SOUTHWEST || Southern Utah, Arizona & New Mexico
DAY 11 330 miles || Salt Lake City to Panguitch, Utah (via Brian Head & Cedar Breaks National Monument)
DAY 12 273 miles || Panguitch to Page, Arizona (via Bryce Canyon National Park, & Zion National Park)
DAY 13 307 miles || Page (Horseshoe Bend) & Grand Canyon National Park (North Rim)
DAY 14 175 miles || Page to Kayenta, Arizona (via Upper Antelope Canyon, Arizona & Monument Valley, Utah)
DAY 15 252 miles || Kayenta to Durango, Colorado (via Monument Valley, Utah, the Four Corners Monument, & New Mexico)
THE ROCKIES || Colorado
DAY 16 348 miles || Durango to Leadville, Colorado (via Wolf Creek Pass & Monarch Pass)
DAY 17 299 miles || Leadville to Estes Park, Colorado (via Independence Pass, Aspen, Berthoud Pass, & Rocky Mountain National Park)
THE GREAT PLAINS || Wyoming, Nebraska, Iowa, Missouri & Arkansas
DAY 18 307 miles || Estes Park to Cheyenne, Wyoming (via Laramie, Como Bluff, Medicine Bow, & Buford, Wyoming)
DAY 19 404 miles || Cheyenne to Burwell, Nebraska (via Scotts Bluff National Monument & Carhenge, Nebraska)
DAY 20 407 miles || Burwell to Kansas City, Missouri (via Spalding, Nebraska; SW Iowa; & Omaha, Nebraska)
DAY 21 286 miles || Kansas City to St Louis, Missouri
DAY 22 322 miles || St Louis to Memphis, Tennessee (via Dyess, Arkansas)
THE SOUTH || Tennessee, Mississippi, Alabama & Georgia
DAY 23 308 miles || Memphis to Vicksburg, Mississippi (via Clarksdale, Yazoo City & Bentonia, Mississippi)
DAY 24 336 miles || Vicksburg to Prattville, Alabama (via Selma, Alabama)
DAY 25 297 miles || Prattville to Cornelia, Georgia (via Montgomery, Alabama & Stone Mountain, Georgia)
THE APPALACHIANS || Georgia, North Carolina, Virginia & West Virginia
DAY 26 261 miles || Cornelia to Asheville, North Carolina (via Helen & Brasstown Bald, Georgia & Great Smoky Mountains National Park, North Carolina)
DAY 27 200 miles || Asheville to Galax, Virginia (via the Blue Ridge Parkway)
DAY 28 004 miles || Galax, Virginia
DAY 29 354 miles || Galax to Lewisburg, West Virginia (via the Blue Ridge Parkway & Shenandoah National Park)
KENTUCKY & THE GREAT LAKES || Ohio, Kentucky, Indiana & Illinois
DAY 30 404 miles || Lewisburg to Lexington, Kentucky (via Chesapeake, Ohio; Cordell, Kentucky; & Sandy Hook, Kentucky)
DAY 31 241 miles || Lexington to Beaver Dam, Kentucky (via Lincoln Homestead State Park & Mammoth Cave National Park)
DAY 32 190 miles || Beaver Dam to Bloomington, Indiana (via Rosine & Owensboro, Kentucky)
DAY 33 282 miles || Bloomington to Chicago, Illinois (via Indianapolis, Indiana)
DAYS 34-36 017 miles || Chicago, Illinois