I spent one summer of my early 20’s working as a waitress in Yellowstone National Park. It was there that I learned about how most of the world experiences our national parks. From a car. Yellowstone covers a huge area and the majority of it is devoid of tourists. Rumor has it that of the approximately 4 million visitors who come to Yellowstone each year only 5% venture more than ¼ mile from the road. When I worked there I had a wee superiority complex because I actually hiked trails, fished in remote lakes, and visited the geysers that were tucked away in the woods. So now I must humbly ask forgiveness for any disdainful thing I may have uttered about “tourons” (tourist/morons) who do nothing but drive through, look at a couple of roadside geysers and jam up traffic ogling at an elk. Yup, this time, that was us. With the exception of the traffic jam (Scott refuses to be “that guy”). By this point, we had seen so much wildlife we would pretty much only brake for a grizzly bear. We spent only one day visiting Yellowstone National Park, but we sure made the most of that day!
We woke up at a free campsite in the Carbella Recreation Area which is just north of the entrance to Yellowstone. Actually, we woke up in the boat trailer parking lot in the recreation area. It looked like a legit campsite in the dark of the night but when morning shed its light on our site it was apparent that we could have chosen better. So, I pulled one of our fully deployed tent re-parking jobs while Scott was still cozy up in his sleeping bag early in the morning before too many boaters had arrived. Two cups of coffee later we were on the road to visit our nation’s first national park. We stopped at the visitor’s center at Mammoth Hot Springs to look around. We did enjoy the informative video showing bison and elk chasing down and goring people who ventured too close. There was also a full complement of taxidermized wild animals looking at us funny so we didn’t stick around too long.
Our first stop was to walk around the travertine formations at Mammoth Hot Springs. There is a boardwalk that meanders through impressive pools ringed with mineral deposits.
It didn’t take us long to absorb all we needed from that stop and so we headed on down the road to find the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone. We took the trail down to peek over the brink of Lower Falls. The volume of water flowing over that fall was mind-boggling. Many mini waterfalls were pouring off the canyon walls from the accumulation of mist from the main fall.
Again, it was pretty quick for us to soak up that attraction and move on. We stopped at a couple geyser basins and marveled at the beautiful colors in the pools and frenetic energy of the constantly spitting steam fields. There were a number of abandoned hats resting out on the mineral crust of one of the geysers. It is both illegal and dangerous to leave the boardwalk so when the wind takes a hat it becomes a sacrifice to the sulfur gods.
We eventually arrived at Old Faithful. Our arrival was perfectly timed… it had just gone off when we showed up so we had time to squeeze in a pint at the bar in the Old Faithful Inn before the next estimated eruption. We finished our beers and walked up to the geyser moments before it erupted in the wake of the setting sun. Doesn’t get much better than that!
After leaving Yellowstone we drove out into the Targhee National Forest to find free camping. Again, we found ourselves peering into the darkness trying to find a place that was unoccupied, level, and had good vibes. It was probably close to an hour on washboard roads before we found our spot near the shore of Grassy Lake. We were pretty excited to see what our campsite looked like in the morning. In the light of day, we saw that we would have done so much better if we had turned left instead of right off the road. Well, there is no time like the present. After another fully deployed tent re-parking event, we had a lakefront spot in the trees. We lingered most of the day, soaking up the sun and relaxing. Our plan was to get to the Teton National Park in time to select a hike for the following day and get to our next camp before dark. The visitor’s center closed 5 minutes before we arrived. Bummer. We grabbed a free park info paper and found that there was another visitors center that would be open for another two hours. Yay. We had such good luck with the park ranger’s recommendations in Glacier National Park that we wanted to try again in Teton. The ranger at the visitor’s center recommended a loop hike that was 19 miles long with about 5000 feet of elevation gain. No way. Not that we couldn’t hike 19 miles, but that we couldn’t wake up and motivate in time to get to the trailhead and hike 19 miles before the sun went down. Also, I am usually feeling pretty satisfied with the whole hiking thing after about 12 miles. We settled on an out and back to Holly Lake. It was 13 miles and about 2500 feet of elevation gain. That sounded good enough for me! Having decided on a hike we headed out of the park and up Shadow Mountain to find a good camp spot. We found a real gem in time to watch the sun set behind the Grand Teton.
It was a good thing that we only had 13 miles to conquer that day because we didn’t hit the trail until 1:00 pm. As we were still in bear country we ended up shooing the bears away from our trajectory with a loud and detailed narrative on the careers of Scott’s favorite ultra-runners and MMA fighters. Also, some of Scott’s least favorite MMA fighters. Also, the plot of Pulp Fiction. The hike was lovely and if we had not been on so many other phenomenal hikes in recent times we might have been more impressed. My favorite part was the hoary marmots. They were the stars of the show. They were out in rocky scree fields marmot-ing around and pretending to be shy all the while turning to make sure to show off their good side.
The diving ducks at Holly Lake were pretty great too. When they would surface it was like they were ultra-buoyant. I swear they would almost bounce clear out of the water when they came up from a dive. Too cute. We were feeling inspired to finish out the hike with a quickness because Scott’s folks, Diane and Preston, had made a deposit into the Scott and Rachael Superfluous Happiness Fund with the strict instructions to spend said deposit on good beer. We were a couple miles from the bottom of the hike dreaming of frosty pints when we heard an otherworldly call echo out into the forest. My first thought was, “Zombies!” and the second was, “We should get out of here!” Scott is wired differently than me. He headed off trail into the forest to see what was making such an awful noise. He caught sight of the haunch of an animal that looked very moose-like. Scott tried to get me to follow him into the thickets to stalk this mystery animal and I dilly-dallied enough to miss seeing it. I am very moose-stomp averse. I kept reminding Scott that we were missing out on beer drinking time and inching away from the demon noise. We heard it again and I hightailed it down the trail. Scott has promised not to abandon me (or allow me to abandon myself) in the wilderness so he had no choice but to follow. Through the magic of YouTube, we later found that we were actually hearing a horny bull elk looking for love. Apparently, it is good to stay out of their way at such times as they are pretty ornery.
We made it back to the truck unscathed and set our sights on Jackson and beer and food. As the resident navigator, it is my job to do the google searches and find the best beers when we roll into a town. There were a number of candidates but we had the starvation factor to consider so we opted for a brewery that also served grub. Snake River Brewery fit the bill. There were plenty of things that Scott could veganize and the beer selection looked proper. We were enjoying our pints. Well, enjoying the first half. The second half of each of the beers I tried had a heavy wet dog finish. It was probably just me, Scott didn’t get that from anything he sampled. Anyhow, we were drinking our pints when our waitress approached the table next to us and asked if there was a problem with her service. Apparently, they had spent most of the evening camping out at that table and chose not to tip. Scott and I went all big-eyed while our neighbors tried to backpedal and add a tip. She didn’t let them. We were on best behavior for the rest of our meal so that the scary waitress wouldn’t turn her wrath our way. Also, we always tip well.
After dinner, we headed up into the elk refuge outside of Jackson for another night of free camping. We were pretty exhausted and took the first site we could find. We were headed out of Wyoming and had one pit stop along the way. When I was searching for the prior night’s libations I came across a taproom that didn’t serve food but had a really intriguing selection of beers on tap. We decided that we could pop in on our way out of town to sample a flight. Unfortunately, I didn’t pay close enough attention to the hours and they didn’t open up until that evening. Time for the navigator to come up with a Plan B. As it turns out, Plan B was more like Plan Meant to Be! We landed at Melvin Brewing in Alpine, Wyoming (pop. 865). This brewery was born out of the back of a Thai Restaurant in Jackson and had since moved on to their fabulous facility in Alpine. They had a great deck with observation towers and strings of lights that made us want to stick around and see what kind of party would evolve on a given Tuesday night. Also, their beers were absolutely fantastic. We enjoyed small pours as they were not shy about the alcoholic strength in their IPAs.
We had places to be so we didn’t linger too long, plus I was getting hungry and had spied a school bus converted to a taco stand in town and was hoping to convince Scott to stop. He was easy to convince and the tacos were a fabulous end to our Wyoming adventure!