016 - les trois tetons to yellowstone
Updated: Sep 27, 2018
Wyoming: April 13th-22nd
After leaving Walden, we crossed the boarder to Wyoming pretty quickly. We intended to stay in Saratoga but after seeing that the campground did not have any fresh water and we were low, we continued to Rawlins and then Lander. It was a long drive for one day, but in the end it was worth it. We camped at a free city park campground, right next to a small river.
The next day we filled up on groceries and Mattia checked the air pressure on all our tires, filling the ones that needed more. We continued through the very green and underpopulated state toward the Grand Tetons. Somewhere along the way, we decided to spend the night, (a spot found on iOverlander) not quite realizing how far the uneven gravel road would take us before it was okay to overnight. But nevertheless we ended up at one of the most untouched and beautiful camp spots we have been to since we started. We were parked, literally right at the lakes edge, with the Teton range in the distance, far away from any roads or therefore any noise. The only other activity around us was from two dogs straying about, probably from the farm down the road, and a fisherman and his wife who decided to leave when they oddly felt threatened by the two very normal dogs.
In the morning, Mattia noticed that one of our wheel caps was missing. After our initial annoyance, we held on to the belief that maybe it fell off on the gravel road that we came from. We had to head back out that way anyway. About 10 minutes and half way down the road, Mattia randomly remembered that we had forgotten the solar panel and power bank on Henry's rear bumper. Without checking we made our way back and about another 5 minutes later I spotted the power bank on the dusty road. The solar panel was oddly still on the rear bumper. And luckily everything still worked. But the wheel cap was nowhere to be found. We figured, that we must have lost somewhere between here and Lander, after filling up on air. The upside was, that driving without a wheel cap is no issue at all, nonetheless we wanted to replace it if we could.
So, we hit the nearest cafe in Dubois and grabbed two muffins to rekindle our spirits before checking Napa Auto Parts for a new one. No luck. With hopes of finding one in the next big city (which was Bozeman) we headed on to the Grand Teton National Park.
On our first campground try we gladly declined, because the prices started at 60 bucks. Instead we headed a little further south to the Signal Mountain campground where we ended up paying 28 bucks for a dry site. We went ahead and booked two nights anyway. On the same day we explored the Jenny Lake area, where the visitor center was unfortunately still closed for the season and enjoyed our lunch with a perfect view of the mountain range, before heading back to Signal Mountain to do our laundry and make a use of the electrical outlets and the free WiFi.
On our second day in the park, we went north to Coltor Bay, where we got disappointed because the boat rentals were not yet up and running, watched a short but very interesting video in the visitor center about the reintroduction of the wolf in Yellowstone, and headed back south to Jenny Lake. There we decided on a short hike through bear country along the most picturesque and idyllic lakes, and had our only wildlife encounter in the park with a beaver. We ended the day down by the lake behind our campground to watch the sun set behind the Tetons coloring the lake beautifully golden.
On that note, we left the placid and calm Grand Tetons and went directly into the storm. Figuratively and literally speaking. Yellowstone was our next destination. Luckily I had looked up which campgrounds were open already the day before, making the route through the insanely large National Park as efficient as possible. If you have never been to Yellowstone, it's important to know that the park drive goes in a figure 8, with about 15 to 20 miles in between each corner and meeting point of the 8. Three campgrounds were already open, and we were not very keen on driving the same parts over and over, so heading into the park from the south east corner we went left toward Old Faithful and Madison to the first of the three campgrounds.
Now, high season in the park had not yet started, but the parking lots and pull outs were already packed. We didn't even want to imagine what it's like during peak season. We stopped at Old Faithful, the most well-known geysir in the park, and came right before an estimated outburst. We joined the other 150 tourists on the viewing platform, waited for about another 20 minutes, before the very famous spit up. Mattia and I both looked at each other and almost burst out laughing. Okay, it was cool and all, but waiting around for it, seemed silly nonetheless.
We quickly looked into the the old Old Faithfull Inn, which we read was very impressive. And it definitely was. The piano and violin playing made it even more spectacular and fit the mood perfectly. We continued our drive toward Madison with a spontaneous stop after we spotted a bison at a pull-out. And it turned out to be a real treat. For Mattia it had been the first time seeing bison in the wild, but even for me it was unbelievable. The massive creatures slowly made their way toward all the tourists, we tried to keep a safe distance, (others unfortunately did not) and started quarreling with each other right in front of us, lowering their heads and going toward each other with their horns.
At the campground we saw the sign that read full, but from our experience, it's always good to ask anyway, so we took our spot in line. A guy decided to cut in front of us, but got turned away. We asked the Kiwi at the registration desk anyway, and in a hushed voice she said that she might be able to get us the last spot. She did. And lucky for us it was a nice spot too.
We spent the next couple of days exploring the lower part of the park, hitting almost every look-out, pull-out, and attraction we could; gasping over the truly mesmerizing and unbelievable rich colors of the prismatic hot springs, chuckling over the thick white bubbling mud pools, and rolling our eyes at very stupid tourists that just had to see if the water was actually hot. We saw tons of bison, got caught in a heavy hail downpour after we were rejected from Madison campground for a second overnight and stayed outside of the park in a state park in the small but cute town of West Yellowstone instead. We saw elk, a coyote, stayed at the very expensive and truly ugly RV park (the second of the three open ones) at Fishing Bridge and saw the grand canyon of Yellowstone.
We stayed another two nights at the last of the three open campgrounds in the northwest corner of the park, after having successfully explored the entire lower 8. We had been extremely unlucky with the weather, either getting caught in random rain showers or waiting out the dark clouds before they could get us. But we managed to explore the Mammoth hot springs and spent one morning in the small town of Gardiner, just outside the north entrance, enjoying coffee and a delicious savory muffin for breakfast as the rain poured down outside.
We ended our stay in the park with a drive down Lamar Valley, where the wildlife seems the most comfortable, in the hopes of spotting some wolves. The ranger at the visitor center told us where to look for a den, but upon getting there it was impossible to find it. So unfortunately my wish did not come true yet, however we saw lots of bison with the tiniest and very fuzzy calves, we saw a black bear mother with three very young cubs, a grizzly high up in the mountain with two yearlings (they could have passed for three rocks if you asked me), a few antelope, mule deer, and even a marmot on the side of the road. So in the end, it was a very successful evening of wildlife scouting and a great way to remember Yellowstone. The first official national park of the US truly has a lot to offer.