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In The Mountains, part two

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Haven’t done much (any) blogging this past week since I’ve been on vacation. I hope these next three posts about our travels make up for that 🙂 Also, very little editing (I can’t read in the car without feeling sick – but I can type apparently…). Check out our website for a visual (including Foursquare check-in locations) representations of our trip.

DAY 4, Tuesday

It stormed briefly over night and we woke up to a vicious wind coming off the lake. We were happy to see our tent stood up to the storm and kept us dry from the rain. We were successful in making bacon for breakfast but our little camping stove just couldn’t keep up with the wind to boil water for coffee or cook the eggs. I ate a cold breakfast of yogurt and granola instead and we stopped for coffee on our way further up the mountains to Yellowstone. As we made our way into Yellowstone, the clouds increased but the rain stayed away until we were able to snap a few shots of waterfalls for our friend Caroline. We stopped at the visitors center in Yellowstone and picked up a few hiking handouts for hikes in the northern part of the park. Our campground was on the far west side and we saw bison and elk on the way there from the east entrance of the park.

At this point, I’ll mention that a week before our trip a Yellowstone visitor was killed by a bear protecting her cubs. So, bears. They exist in Yellowstone (if you didn’t know this already). It was very clear in the park that visitors should never leave food out if not in immediate use. And not just food: water containers, toiletries, dishes and camping stoves. We got in the habit of putting EVERYTHING but our camping chairs and tent in the car at night or during the day when we were not at the campsite.

The exhaustion of the trip had caught up with me so as soon as we set up camp, I took a nap. Our campsite was right by the bathrooms (which were well taken care of). We went into West Yellowstone, a small town just outside the west entrance of Yellowstone, for groceries. We ended up getting dinner at a Mexican food truck which was actually in an old school bus. The extra room meant we actually got on the bus to order and there were counters and chairs on the bus where we could eat. We spent the evening at the campfire planning the next day. From our campsite, we could hear the Gibbon and Madison rivers. We found out later that most Wyoming rivers had been above flood stage for a few weeks. The Platte River was the last river to go below flood stage on Friday (DAY 7). We definitely saw some rushing rivers during our explorations. Injury disclosure: On the way to the car, before bedtime, I tripped on the step up to where the car was parked (between pavement and grass) and landed on my knee, bruising and  scratching it up pretty bad. Phil did an excellent job administering first-aid.

PROS: Waterfalls, Yellowstone, amazing views, having the first aid kit, avoiding 4-hour downpour at our campsite by a few minutes

CONS: rain, having to USE the first aid kit

DAY 5, Wednesday

We made breakfast and prepared for a day of hiking and exploring in Yellowstone. Since we were planning to leave from Yellowstone via the South entrance, we planned to spend our Wednesday in the northern part of the park. We made our way to the Towers area (Northeast part of the park) and stopped along the way for some incredible views, perfect for photo opps. We picked a trail behind Roosevelt lodge in the Towers Junction for a hike. Based on other little treks with very little uphill walking, I knew the thinner air was going to make any strenuous hiking (no matter how short the trail) impossible for two people who hadn’t been training for mountain hiking. Our 4-mile hike was gorgeous and awesome (the rain storm that passed by just missed us) but the initial incline was really tough (for me) and Phil and I both had some sore knees on our way back down.

We were advised by the ranger to make noise as we came around a corner or over a hill on our hike to make sure we did not surprise any bears. While it would have been awesome to see a bear, it would have been pretty nerve-wracking to happen upon a bear. So, on our 2nd half the of the hike, I taught Phil the words to KU’s alma mater as he no longer remembered it. It was a pretty amusing moment!

We got back to our car and made our way along the norther road from the Towers area to the Mammoth Hot Springs area. We walked the boardwalk a bit to see the hot springs but did not spend much time there as we were exhausted from the hike. The Mammoth Hot Springs area is operated mostly by Xanterra (same company that runs the campground in the Madison area where we stayed) and is REALLY nice. We spent some time in the shade with some ice cream at their cafe and paid for showers at the hotel located in the same area. Pay showers seem crazy but it was well worth the $3 (each). Phil needed some clean clothes so we went out the north park entrance to Gardiner, Montana. We did a load of laundry, did some reading and I bought a few things at the gift shop (no sales tax in Montana!) Shockingly, we left our phones charging in the laundrymat for a few minutes. I remembered as we were heading out of town that we had left them. We were glad we hadn’t gotten too far!

On our way back into the park, we learned that the north entrance was the first official entrance of Yellowstone National Park and probably the reason Mammoth Hot Springs is such a nice area. We had about an hour back to our campsite (Yellowstone is HUGE – not sure if I’ve mentioned that before) and getting back to the site at 11pm to cook dinner sounded like a bad idea since we were SO tired. We stopped and grabbed dinner at a convenience store in Mammoth. Back at the campsite, we crashed.

Pros: Lack of sales tax in Montana, ice cream, no bear attacks, sun, no humidity

Cons: Lack of oxygen, being out of shape

DAY 6, Thursday

We were sad to leave our campsite at Madison. The facilities (bathroom and dishwashing area) were great and we were going to miss the little ground squirrels that had been hanging out with us for the past two days. I think they were going to miss us, too as we didn’t have ten-year olds with nets trying to catch them (I didn’t feel too bad for the ground squirrels, the kids chasing them said they were going to let any they caught go.) Our routine was pretty established by this point and even though we slept until around 8am, we had made breakfast, washed dishes, packed the car (there was a system to fit everything) and were leaving Madison by 10am. We headed south to see some more of Yellowstone park and to make our way through Grand Tetons National Park (we still weren’t sure where we were going to camp that night). Still in Yellowstone, we stopped to see geysers, hot springs and mudpots. The air smelled of sulfur but this area was awesome to see – volcanic activity bubbling to the earth’s surface. We also saw Old Faithful! We had great timing as we only had to wait ten minutes until it went off. The coolest thing, I think, is that the time between eruptions can be known by how long the most recent eruption lasted.

We needed groceries but passed on the Old Faithful store food ($5 for loaf of bread, $3 for dozen eggs, $6 per half pound of bacon). The end of Yellowstone National Park meant the beginning of Grand Tetons National Park, a smaller, but just as awesome park. We stopped for a late lunch at Leek’s Marina and Pizzeria on Jackson Lake. It had an amazing view of the lake and Mount Muran and Mount Teton. The pizza was great and the beer was refreshing. Did I mention the view?We decided we needed a couple pint glasses to remember this spot.

We continued south to Lake Jenny and decided to rent a canoe for a couple hours to spend the rest of the afternoon. Lake canoeing isn’t quite the same as canoeing down a river but the sun was warm (still no humidity) and the mountain view seemed fake it was so amazing. Unfortunately, the mountain lake water (probably mostly snow melt from the mountains) was way too cold for anything but our feet (for just a few minutes). We decided to spend the night in the Tetons (it was already 6:30) but most of the campgrounds were full. The ranger at the South Jenny Lake area suggested we try the Gros Ventre camping area. With over 300 camping spots, this camping area rarely fills. We got a spot and we could tell right away it wasn’t our favorite spot we’ve had on the trip. Other than the mountains in the background, the area where we camped looked just like camping in Kansas – just more overgrown. The facilities weren’t quite as nice as what we were used to (no soap in the bathrooms and no dishwashing area) but we set up camp and tried not to dehydrate before the sun dropped behind the mountains.  Phil made chili (a really great camping meal) and built a fire while I did a bit of writing. We were exhausted and burnt (despite three applications of sunscreen) and crashed.

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