Epic roadtrip to US cont’d

Day 9 Missoula – Yellowstone – Roosevelt cabins
Scorching once again.. We arrived at West Yellowstone and stopped off at some of the smaller geyser sites on the way up to Mammoth Lakes and the main Visitor centre. Stopped off by the roadside to watch a black bear forage its way down a valley (it did get horribly close to the road considering they can run at an incredible pace) for around 45 minutes. I haven’t seen a bear this close-up since being in BC 19 years ago when there seemed to be a black bear at every turn. Three subsequent visits to BC yielded no such encounters. It was incredible, the bear was oblivious to its audience along the road-side and also to two motionless and ready to flee deer who appeared like rabbits caught in the headlights as the bear ambled within spitting distance of them.. Stayed at The Roosevelt Lodge – like camping but inside. Log cabins with wood burning stoves and no wash-room.The Lodge restaurant, porch and lounge terrific. Played card till the wee hours postponing (for me anyway) the inevitable 4 or 5 nocturnal treks to the communal washrooms that always occurs as soon as my bladder twigs there is nor convenient loo to hand. Amazing star-gazing; in the space of 20 minutes, the best fairytale shooting stars I’ve ever seen – you know the type a child would draw,  twinkling ones that arc across the sky followed by amazing trails.
Day 10 Yellowstone – Grant Village
Great day geyser watching (yeah I know I can do this one in my own home). On the loop from Roosevelt down to Old Faithful, there are LOADs, Trick is (if you haven`t already been) to just try to see a few of the more memorable ones as many require a short walk and all these stops soon eat away the day. Best for me were Prismatic Lake in the Midway geyser section – a huge cyan-turquoise circular pool surrounded by `tentacles of copper-red and sulfur coloured bacteria. “Old Faithful” geyser very cool. Brilliant that the Rangers can give you an estimate of when the thing is next going to erupt – they were bang-on and we only waited about 30 minutes before it started teasing us with  a couple of false starts closely followed by the amazing whooshing skyward jets of water and steam. “Old Faithful Inn” has to be  visited as it looks like a giant and intricate tree-house and has been designated a heritage building, Built in, it has amazingly escaped a number of devastating forest fires. Personally speaking, though I admired the design, it was way too touristy and commercial and with a very ordinary utilitarian restaurant. We couldn`t wait to get out. Better is the “Old Faithful Lodge and Cabins” whose lounge has a picture window overlooking “Old Faithful“. We were unable to get into this Lodge, ending up instead at “Grant Village” on Lake Yellowstone. Over-priced but with the redeeming feature of having the only restaurants overlooking the lake  – pity they were so sterile and `canteen-like”.
Day 11 Yellowstone – Canyon Lodge
Travelled south out of Yellowstone to visit the “Grand Teton” National Park. One seventh of the size of Yellowstone, it was one of the earlier national parks and as such has suffered from over commercialization; it has 9 concessionaires in the Park, and an airport. It is absolutely stunning with a large range of textbook glaciated peaks 13000 and above.  We stopped a tan original prairie log cabin just off the road, At one pint the whole area would have been littered with these. The Grand Teton Visitor center is one of the best we’ve seen so far.
We drove back to Yellowstone, along the Yellowstone river and gorge section up to Canyon. By now we were getting a little nauseated by the ever-present stench of sulphur, and the other half was all “geysered out” (his words not mine) so we barely stopped. We were however stopped in our tracks on a stretch of meadow road by a number of buffalo (bison) crossing the road – actually they weren’t so much crossing as simply standing in the road with a long line up of vehicles not daring to make a move.  We’d seen many a solitary bison grazing on the side of road, but these belonged to the thousand strong herd on either side of the road. It was  like a scene from “Dances with Wolves”. Many of the Bulls were in the early stages of the rutting season. As far as the eye could see were little pockets of dust cloud and hooves pawing the air as these 2000 lb plus creatures writhed around creating dust bowls for the benefit of the ladies. After that the Upper and Lower Fall views (magnificent as they are) lost their appeal but then I have never been enthralled by the sight of waterfalls person
Canyon Lodge is one of the older “stuck in a time-warp” lodges with very basic cabins (with a wash-room this time). The Lodge is also home to a number of dining options ( a Milk and burger diner and a dining room; several gift shops and a post office. The lounge is cosy, but again the dining room lacked any of the soul of the first lodge (Roosevelt) that we’d stayed in – the menu was the same as the night before. All the lodges are run by Xanterra who also run stables in the area. We went on an hours horse trek at dusk which was interesting seeing as I haven’t been on a steed for about 4 years, Gonna hurt like hell in 2 days time but western saddles are so much more comfortable than the European models and it was nice to be viewing things from the outback rather than from the road or a boardwalk area.
Day 12 – This could all end in tears – Devils Tower Lodge. Devils’ Tower Wyoming
Left Yellowstone via the east entrance, but not before we spotted a couple of cars parked up at an odd angle at thee side of the road which always means something has been spotted. There he was, a young grizzly, just yards away foraging for tree roots and berries and seemingly oblivious of the growing number of tourists clicking cameras, cars screeching to a halt and honking horns as excited tourists ran across the road. I was just glad that it wasn’t a full-grown grizzly interested in people for breakfast – really, none of us should have been so close – it was only a week ago just a few miles away on this side of the park that 3 campers had been dragged out of their tent by a grizzly and one had died in the attack!The spruce slopes of the Yellowstone river started to give way to sandstone mesa scenery as we made our way to Cody state park and the Buffalo Bill Historical museum in Cody – brilliant especially if as a boy you grew up with Wild Bill Cody stories; We jut had time to do about 4 of the exhibits including one on the Plains Indians  and the reservations, and then we detoured back up to Montana to visit “Little Bighorn” the site of “Custers” Last Stand”. Again a National Historic site, it was superbly done, with all the key points of the battle marked out on a 5 mile stretch of road above the visitors centre.We were just patting ourselves on the back at how well things had gone so far when our country music listening pleasure was interrupted by a series of staccato beeps followed by a static monotone severe weather warning. Like Montana, Wyoming can also be “big sky” country. We have been watching an increasingly inky cloud base forming since leaving Sheridan – accompanied by that muddy murky coloured cloud that develops into thunderstorms. Streak and fork lightning back-dropped the mountains to the south and as this wasn’t the direction we were travelling in, it was just kind of interesting at that point.. The weather warning continued to cut into the radio programme. As we could see the “weather” system arcing around us, I actually started listening and checking our position on the map. Yep we were heading right into a “severe” weather system with gusts of up to 65 mph, deadly lightning ( I don’t like either of these words by themselves, tag them together and I am in freak-out mode); hailstones etc etc. Oh and it also warned that this weather system had the potential to develop into a tornado, and that it was travelling at 25 mph. Anybody who knows me, will know that I am TERRIFIED of thunderstorms so, fun day ruined. We were travelling east at around 75 mph (or whatever the max speed limit is in Wyoming) the storm appeared to be following us to our right for miles and then of course our path and that of the storms converged we were in the thick of it. Hardly a car on the road as usual. No towns or cities within striking distance. We are in the middle of nowhere and totally exposed. Kept driving, could barely see the road ahead and with bolts of lightening striking to the right and left, my other half calmly remarks that as we are on rubber tyres there really isn’t anything to worry about.

About 10 minutes later come through the worst of it, but it is still following us ( we are just moving faster). I constantly check the side mirror watching an amazing sunset ringed by lightning through breaks in the cloud. It is now getting dark.

Next challenge is finding The Devils’ Tower Lodge at Devils’ Tower, a national monument. This is the 850 ft volcanic tower that features in Steven Spielburg’s “Close encounters” film. It is literally in the back yard of our B&B.  Trouble is that the storm is with us again as we start climbing up through the national Park to the tower. We can see it ahead of us lit periodically by lightning – apparently the Tower is a beacon for lightning strikes – it would’ve been atmospheric and apt had we not hit a bloody deer which just came out of nowhere. Pulled over – slashing down with rain, no sign of deer, except for tufts of it’s backside stuck in our mangled headlight. Front of car an absolute mess and passenger door creaking so obviously damaged and great news, on a night like tonight with a drive like the one ahead, one of our headlights is out. But hey, we are fine, no whiplash, passenger airbag didn’t deploy as we were moving very slowly and we can carry on!!……….

So now all we have to do is find the damn lodge, we have no cell-phone coverage; the pay phone at the motel at the bottom of the hill is broken and won’t take our credit card, so once again up into the park we go, thunder and lightning getting more intense as is the rain AND did I mention we only have one headlight. Really, all we need now is to hit  another wild animal. The B&B continues to prove elusive, and there doesn’t appear to be a sign on the main road. We do know it is about the only private dwelling in the National Park, so we drive all sorts of dead-ends, and gravel roads, and for the third time end up at the motel at the bottom of the hill asking for directions. By this time the poor woman has had enough of us and rings the owner – Frank – for us. He comes down in his car to fetch us 10.30pm and we fear we have “pissed him off as he is leading a climbing party up the Tower tomorrow at 5am!!. We needn’t have worried, this is one chilled out dude. He is probably in his late 50’s his lodge is a home from home; we only had 15 minutes of chat with him but his “aura” was so relaxed – sensing the tension in us, he proceeded to talk us down. We have anew saying in our household “Be like Frank” – hope I can remember this when the chips are down.


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