Day 70 & 71: Yellowstone NP & Grand Teton NP

Trip Start Jul 01, 2008
Trip End Sep 27, 2008

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Where I stayed
Snake River KOA

Flag of United States  , Wyoming
Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Heading west toward Yellowstone and the Grand Tetons we hoped we were leaving Mt Rushmore's 'chilly spell' behind. Nope. Driving up the side of a hill (turned out to be the very elevated Bighorn Mountains), Matt asked if I thought the rain falling on the windscreen was snow. The temperature had dropped to 33 degrees, so it seemed plausible, if just a little concerning as we had another 3 hrs drive to get to Yellowstone and snow chains were one of the things we left in the garage in the Final Roadtrip Pack. It was a pretty drive through this part of Wyoming, and the Bighorn Mountains are spectacular, with plenty of snowdrifts covering the fields (that the kids were just itching to get out and play in). Clearly winter had arrived in this part of the country but by the time we reached Cody the skies had cleared and it was a beautiful evening. We'd heard good things about Cody, frontier-town, the real Wild West, Buffalo Bill country etc, so we debunked at the cabin and sauntered into town for dinner. There only seemed to be a choice between a "Family Restaurant" the style of which we had already found not to be ours, or a lively looking Hotel. The Hotel turned out to be the historic Irma Hotel built by Buffalo Bill and named for his daughter which served up great pub food. Exactly our kind of style on this wintery night.
Entering Yellowstone NP was a like driving into another world. The Park Ranger at the gate gave the kids an I Spy sheet of animals to look for, noting that seeing 7 of these animals would put them in the "good spotting" range. Matt scored the first point with a squirrel running across the road in front of him, but it was our first bison (buffalo) that had us hopping with excitement. Rounding a corner we had 2 bisons crossing the road, giving us a chance to get up close and snap a few shots. Over the course of the day we saw elk, a mule deer, coyotes, a fox (we think), Canadian ducks, pelicans, a mountain goat and bison. Unfortunately we didn't spot a bear, grizzly or black, but not for lack of trying.  We stopped and watched some fly fishermen for a while in the hope that we might see some trout, but they weren't having any luck with us as company. Our biggest animal thrill, or heart stopper in Matt's case, was rounding a corner and finding two bison standing in the middle of the road. I had read earlier in the day the suggested method of dealing with this hazard, and had mentioned only to Matt that he should not be in the direct line of a moving beast. Finding himself in this situation, he manouvered the car off the road as best he could, only to find the bison changing direction toward us again. Now slightly panicked, we all sat wondering what to do next, but after nearly putting his nose up to Matt's window, the huge (they get very big when they are this close and you don't want them to be) bison wandered away past our car. And we hit the speed limit on our way to the south exit of the park.  We saw, and smelt, lots of geysers and mudpots including of course the star attraction, Old Faithful. After a 20 minute wait, off it went, impressing the decent crowd that had gathered. Except Daniel who wasn't all that impressed; maybe we had built it up too much, or more likely, he has been dazzled by so many man-made explosions that this gentle force of nature was a little tame in comparison. A day isn't long to spend in Yellowstone NP, we didn't get as far up as Mammoth Hot Springs, but after a full day of smelling geysers, hot springs and mudpots, the kids were definitely ready to leave the 'rotten eggs' behind.
Our next night was spent just outside the park, in a cabin, surprisingly in Montana, not Wyoming. Checking in, I was advised to store all food inside the car or inside the cabin, as they had had bears rummaging around all week with lots of damage to coolers and boxes left outside. We thought we might see a bear afterall, but when it came to perhaps our best chance of spotting one, none of us were game enough to get up in the middle of the night and do a run to the toilet-block.
Grand Teton NP is an easy drive through kind of park, so we meandered along the main route just stopping for photo ops and a stretch of the legs at Jenny Lake. There we encountered a bus group of oldies from MA, many of whom stopped Matt to ask him if he was from there as he was wearing his Red Sox sweater. They were among the friendliest and chattiest Americans we've met all trip, and were intrigued by our travels and why the kids were not in school. Our next cabin was in Jackson Hole, we've made a mental note to return one winter, overlooking the Snake River, so we spent the last of the light enjoying the chance to relax and chuck rocks into the river.
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