Yellowstone. Our first national park. One of the places that every self respecting outdoorsman must visit. Well, technically there are many places on this planet that deserve to be seen. There is no need to discriminate. But Yellowstone still well worth a visit.
This trip, as many other before, developed into its final form gradually. I wanted to do something over the Labor Day weekend, something that would not annoy V after the recent long Alaska trip. Also something that can be done with Rita (since I felt a bit guilty after going off for two weeks to Alaska). The initial plan was to hike Teton Crest Trail. However, I’ve missed the deadline to get permits. The only option left was first come which was a bit like gambling. Somehow I’ve stumbled on that Bechler river trail description. For some reason Yellowstone has a trail system not very suitable for short circular backpacking trips. There are good routes there for something longer than a week or to and fro things. But 5 days was a bit difficult to find, at least for me. The original Bechler river trail goes from Old Faithful, approximately, to the Bechler ranger station along the same Bechler river. However, getting to the trailhead from Yellowstone South entrance requires a very long loop on a dirt road. If the group had only one vehicle it would be expensive in time and money. To get around that I added one more hiking day and exit at Grassy lake (9K6) instead. This cut down the gravel driving time to just 10 miles. After I set the trip I though that I could have just added one more day and exit right at the South entrance. Oh, well, this idea came a bit late.
August 31, Wednesday
Get up very early to get to the plane. There was only one train that could fit the schedule so that in a way set the schedule. However, it also forced us to get to the airport on time, just without much food. Since we were all flying on the same flight it was very easy to organize. The flight was uneventful except for the funny flight attendant who made a performance out of that same old boring preflight check. It would be funny if we had to fly just one leg. But our flight was more like a bus (or train). It stopped in Reno, NV. More than half of the people deplaned. Then the new bunch came in and before departure he made the same performance again.
In Salt Lake City Rita found some company that can rent mini vans cheap – Affordable Rent-a-car. They were just not located even remotely close to the airport. I’ve called them and they sent a van to get us all (not sure if it was the plan, but it worked fine). It is always good to support local businesses. The van was fine – Kia Sedona. They even had a bear spray to lend us. I guess some other customer left it. We just stopped by one REI store (to get more bear sprays, some bells, and white gas) had lunch in a Safeway and were off to the Yellowstone. Good timing.
The drive wasn’t very exciting. Since I didn’t know either way I thought that it would be interesting to drive through Idaho and enter Yellowstone from the West. I booked this Forest Service campground called Upper Coffee Pot. But it was fine.
Idaho was mostly flat allowing for easy driving. The weather was good too. In the evening we got food at The College Avenue Deli sandwich place. They had decent sandwiches with some Mediterranean leaning (their desserts were totally American – oil fried cheesecake). For some reason Idaho didn’t have their usual highway thoroughfare of chain malls. There wasn’t much there at all. Somehow I found this college avenue place on Yelp. Well, we have gotten into the campground after dark, ate the cold sandwiches and went to sleep.
September 1, Thursday
With the daylight the campground looked really nice – small, beautiful river nearby, the highway was far enough not to be noisy. The campground hot went out to meet us. And it all cost just $10. The night was a bit chilly. It was clear and the elevation of 6000 ft we have had a little bit of frost on the fly in the morning.
The first stop was in West Yellowstone. It was just a toilet/souvenir stop. West Yellowstone is that place which is very close to some popular destination but where the NPS restrictions don’t apply. Sort of like that town Healy in Alaska. Thus West Yellowstone had all sorts of souvenir shops, an IMAX theater, restaurants, etc. Good thing was that it also had a very good visitor center for all the areas around Yellowstone and the three states it is situated in.
We have reached the Mammoth campground before lunch. I was a bit worried if we can get it because it wasn’t reserved, but there wasn’t any problem. It was a pretty good-looking campground located on a slope overlooking the Gardiner river. It was part of the large Mammoth village, sort of speak. There was a post office, visitor center, some shops, a restaurant, fancy hotel. All the buildings looked vintage 1930’s. It seemed that this area was the first one developed when the park was created. In fact that iconic entrance gate is actually located right there at the North entrance not far from Mammoth. We’ve had lunch at a very windy field next to the visitor center and went off to do the first hike of the trip.
First we went around the Mammoth Hot springs terraces. They were just wooded walkways built around the geothermal features. I was hoping that they would connect to the beaver pond trail, but that trail was under construction. The Liberty Cap was quite noticeable feature. Too bad it wasn’t working any more.
Eventually we found the trail leading up to the hills. It was beautiful not very long trail through some forest with great views of the Mammoth valley. The beaver ponds did have the sings of the beaver activities. The beavers themselves were hiding most likely.
After the beaver ponds loop there was one point on our plan for the day – boiling river. The main trail to boiling river is called Lava Creek trail. It starts actually from Montana side from a small parking lot on the right hand side of the road on the way to the North entrance gate. The trail goes along the Gardiner river for a mile or so. Then it reaches the boiling river junction. The boiling river is really very hot. Not 100C boiling temperature but close. There is no way to sit in it without some adverse effects for the body. However, at the place where it meets cold Gardiner river it is possible to find a spot with reasonable temperature mixture. Of course all the rotten egg smell was present in full blast. There were people there enjoying the hot springs. Not too many, it was kind of getting late. We stayed in the water for an hour or so, then drove to Gardiner for some dinner. I can’t say that Gardiner had significantly better choices of food than the Mammoth village – same touristy heavy stuff. By the time we got there only one place open that offered standard American cuisine. The dinner was a bit long with wine and stuff. So we missed the presentation in mammoth campground.
September 2, Friday
Get up really early – 5:30AM. Prakash and Shafi wanted to shoot some wildlife. To do that we had to get up so early, before sunrise. After packing we went on driving towards Norris junction with the hope to see something wild.
It was beautiful cold morning. There was frost on the ground. We saw a couple of bison and it was possible to see their breath. There was one lonely bison just walking right on the highway. We also saw some elk running around. That was all for the readily visible wildlife.
Suddenly we saw a bunch of people congregating on a off-highway small parking lot. There had to be something to see there. In reality there was a park ranger with a very good telescope showing people a gang of wolves really far away that were munching on some dead buffalo. It was interesting to see some real wolves. We were way far away to probably even register on their sight. The ranger was just repeating the same thing over and over about the wolves, this particular pack, whet they do, etc. Didn’t even blink, like a machine.
On the way to Fishing Bridge area we stopped at several hydrothermal places in Hayden Valley.
There was a ton of stuff. Smelly mud pools, geysers burbling at all sorts of odd palaces; one getting from a cave like a dragon. Very interesting. Sometimes a new thing starts smoking right through asphalt. We had a semi-sleeping late breakfast in the Fishing Bridge market, got some t-shirts and continue. We stopped on the shore of the Yellowstone lake briefly to take pictures.
By noon we made it to the Old Faithful area. The place looked like a shopping mall. In the center is the star attraction – the Old Faithful geyser. Around it in a circle are the rows of seats for the spectators. A bit off is a new sparkling visitor center with a huge window towards the geyser (I guess it isn’t as much fun to see it outside in Winter). Then right next to the visitor center was a lodge with a restaurant. Behind it and enormous parking lot. Behind that was a lonely backcountry office, which we visited. We had a bout an hour before the approximate eruption time. The “permits” I’ve gotten were only reservations. I had to go to the office to get the real ones. Well, I suppose it was their way of maintaining the real number of people on the trails. If someone got a permit by mail half a year before it wasn’t really clear if they went to their trip or not. The ranger made us watch the instructional video about the behavior in the boonies, gave me the real permit and we were off.
We went back to the circus, sorry, the Old Faithful viewing platform. The anticipation was already building up for the upcoming eruption. The park service doesn’t really know exactly when the eruption can occur. However, they can guesstimate based on the length of the previous eruption, +/- 10 min. So they post the expected time of eruption everywhere. People were slowly accumulating like in a movie theater. There was another ranger walking in front of the first row in one section explaining what precisely was going on at the moment inside the geyser. We came a bit late to get good sits and listed to the ranger. Sad, it would be interesting. We ended up sitting on the edge of platform with fit on the wet ground. Whatever, not a big problem. Well, the Old Faithful erupted as predicted. No visible disturbance yet existed in the underlined caldera as scared by 2012. The show was short but spectacular and ended right in time for short lunch.
The real hike of the day was planned to be Fairy Falls & Imperial Geyser. There was also a so-called social trail that allows the view of the Grand Prismatic Spring form a relative height. A ranger in Fishing Bridge told me about it. Not sure why the park doesn’t do anything about it. This social trail is just bushwhacking up a hill loaded with some fallen trees from some old forest fire. They should really considering making a real trail out of it. I doubt it would be possible to prevent people from going there, but at least they can control the erosion. However, the view was spectacular. The spring is so large that it is not really possible to comprehend it standing right next to it (though it has its own beauty). I was really happy we made an effort to go up.
The hike to the Fairy Falls was not difficult – just flat miles through some dry forest. The falls were interesting. I suppose earlier in the season they were really full. Right now, at the end of the summer, there wasn’t much there. After we reached the falls the team was rather reluctant to continue. We still had about a mile to get to the Imperial Geyser. I suppose they were just tired. It was a long day. However, the imperial geyser was really worth the visit. It wasn’t that far anyways.
Actually, compare to the big and famous Old Faithful it was much more interesting. You can sit right next to it. The surroundings are wild, not some shopping mall. And it was going off almost every 15 seconds. It wasn’t shooting up high, but there was still plenty of action. After that the guys wend back at what seemed like half the time.
I was hoping that we can back to the Madison campground before 9PM so that we (or at least I) can attend some interesting presentation. Well, that didn’t happen. After the geysers we went back to the Old Faithful place. The only spot with decent food was the same Old Faithful Lodge. The eating part took a while. We could even see a new eruption from the restaurant window. By the time we were done and get to the campground the presentation about wolves was over. Perhaps I could get people go hurry up, but I didn’t.
Interestingly, all of the stuff in Yellowstone stores, restaurants, and other services, in Tetons too, was comprised mostly from some Asian students. They seem to be on some Summer exchange work. Weird. It is common for places like these to hire seasonal help (like workers in ski resorts). But this looked like some special government program.
September 3, Saturday
Today was supposed to be the first hiking day. However, before that time we had to sort out the car and see the Grand Prismatic Spring again. In reality, the Spring was on the way from Madison campground to the OK1 trailhead.
Well, technically we’ve seen it, just from a different angle. However, being right next to it has its own appeal. It was good that we arrived relatively early because a bit later that tiny parking lot was inundated with people.
Up close Grand Prismatic Spring was quite spectacular. Lots of steam, smell, great vibrant colors. The spring itself was huge, deep, with turquoise colored water. There were also other springs around it – smaller, different colors, more steam. I saw many hats lying in the spring water. I guess people were too mesmerized to watch for the wind.
Finding the trailhead wasn’t difficult – it was just a small parking lot off the main road. The trickiest part was to arrange the van. The idea was to drive to the end point – Grassy Lake. Leave the car there and then hitchhike back. I didn’t want to arrange some taxi service because I am a cheap skate. Also, somewhere on the web people said that it was possible to hitch a ride. Now, I personally have never hitchhiked in US before so it was all new to me. So we left Rita, Shafi, and Prakash on the trailhead and drove off.
The first problem was the Grassy Lake road – 10 miles of hard dusty gravel madness. I was afraid our Korean van would fall apart, but it held fine. Good thing Hari had a lot of experience driving on beat up gravel roads. On top of it I was afraid there won’t be anyone there going back. Luckily, as soon as we parked the van, we flagged some 4×4 truck that agreed to give us a ride to the John D. Rockefeller Jr. parkway, i.e. the main road. They were going south to Tetons, but we were not in position to complain. The guy was just suited to do that nasty gravel road. And way he did – he blasted at maybe 60 mph through all that potholes. It would have been fine if we didn’t sit in the back. It was Hari’s decision. So we were covered in dust and got the behind beaten up quite a bit. But we made it to the highway. So I though that the difficult part was done. There were much more cars on the highway and we would be able to find a ride.
I was a bit wrong. We started walking towards the South Entrance. There were many cars on the road, but none stopped. Well, in a way we looked like some two homeless dudes – who would want to give us a ride. It was very discouraging two miles. Right before the entrance there was a turnout with a big Yellowstone NP sign. Well, since we were there, might as well take a picture. While I was doing that an SUV pulled out and a woman who was also taking a picture asked we want a picture together. For some reason I said that we want a ride. I generally never that direct. Perhaps I wasn’t expecting a positive answer. But they did offer us ride. Not only that, they drove us right to the starting trailhead even though it was a bit out of their way.
I honestly didn’t know how to pay them. I’ve never hitchhiked in US so I have no idea what the custom was. I wouldn’t mind paying, not at all, but I was afraid people will be offended. Yes, I should have asked them straight, but I missed the time. After that it was awkward. It would have been nice if they asked, but they didn’t. So, I can do it here – to the couple from New Jersey that gave a ride to two hikers on September 3rd in Yellowstone – thank you so much.
Hari and I arrived to the trailhead at around 6PM. It was a bit late, but enough to make it to our first campground – Firehole Springs. In reality we could have even walked at night. There was no rain and there were trails. Just had to make enough noise not to surprise any bears. All the time we were struggling to get back to the starting point I was wondering what we would have to do if Hari and I didn’t make it by nightfall. The guys could camp there. We could maybe camp somewhere. I supposed, even walking, we could have made it to the South Entrance. Well, it would have been difficult, but not deadly. But definitely a lot of experience. It was a lot of experience nonetheless.
The beginning if the track for a couple of miles was a well maintained asphalt road going along a river. The road was going to the Lone Star Geyser. I didn’t really care much about it. Frankly, with all the route planning I forgot about this geyser. But the geyser was amazing. It was erupting roughly every two hours. We were lucky enough to actually make to it by the time of its eruption. No Old Faithful crowds. Beautiful suet scenery. Interesting cone from which the water rushes out. I have to admit that out of all geysers we was during the trip Old Faithful was kind of the worst. Those smaller geysers were much more interesting.
We ave reached the campground fast. There wasn’t much elevation change, not distance. On the way we passed a group composed of 3 generations. They said they were doing this route not the first time. There was already one tent at the campground. I think they were squatting because the campground was for only 6 people and there were five of us. Some British couple trying to make it back to their flight in a few days. Strangely, but these Europeans didn’t have a long vacation. The campground was great – large, well maintained, with a nice river nearby, even a fire pit with logs around it. The Brits said that they saw buffalo walking by. We didn’t see any walking buffaloes, but there were lots of their signs, if you know what I mean. Out neighbors went to bed quite early. I suppose they were already adapted to the outdoor lifestyle. We had dinner and hanged around the campfire for a bit. It was getting cold, so we hanged food on the well visible food bar and went to sleep.
September 4, Sunday
The night was cold an eventful. Thought I just missed all the events. Allegedly either Shafi or Hari heard some noise. Something was growling or moaning outside their tents. They got scared, woke up Prakash, cut the safety cord on a bear spray, were ready to fight, but nothing happened. Not sure if they got any sleep after that. I was out dead. Apparently Rita was too (if she wasn’t, she would definitely let me know). Sadly that animal didn’t walk past our tent.
When we finally got up our squatting neighbors have already left. We set breakfast and try to warm up. There were actually a couple of geothermal features of some sort nearby. Small ones. On one spot on the ground right in the camp was steaming, a little bit. I guess it was a bit hot so it was visible while the air was cold. Still, there was quite a bit of rotten egg smell around.
Took us 3 hours to get going, but finally we were on the trail. It was generally nice foresty trail, aside from going uphill all the time. We’ve met a couple of groups going the other direction and one lonely woman hiker going to our direction. She was actually going to a campground near ours. We were still climbing till perhaps lunch time. Then went to a slightly swampy meadow. We had a break there on a shore of a small creek to rest and get some water. In the process my filter finally mechanically broke. One of the ears on the pump handle broke. Oh, well, this was definitely a sigh to get a new one. Not sure how long they supposed to last exactly, but this filter worked faithfully for me for 6 years.
After the meadow there was forest and with a bit of walking we reached our campground – 9D2 Gregg Fork. Same deal as before – food bar, river, fire pit. This time, however, we were able to find the toilet. The campground was right on the shore of the river. It was dense forest around with wills and only small spots for the tents perched on river bank among the trees. Although it was hot and I was tired and dusty I was a bit reluctant to swim in the cold river. Probably laziness. If it was the Alaska crew they would get me swimming under the peer pressure. The water in Alaska was much colder, but we were still swimming there. However, this group did do some semi-swimming and washing. After that there was again campfire and dinner with some river chilled vodka.
September 5, Monday
Today we will be meeting Mr. Bubbles. Get up, do all the morning busyness, a bit faster than the day before, start walking. A couple of miles from the campground we came to an unmarked trail junction. There was a clear trail going off to the left. With no other trail junction nearby that was clearly the offshoot to the supposed location of Mr Bubbles. So we went there. After a bit we could see the geothermal stuff. There was a small geyser going off all the time on the other side of the river. It was higher than the river level and had very colorful sides. A bit further was another boiling river type of junction with a swimming hole – Mr. Bubbles. From one side a boiling hot river was going meeting a freezing cold river. Then they both went to some underground hot spring creating a very pleasant combination.
Quickly change and go into water. In reality, there wasn’t a choice. There were these big black flies that were biting quite painfully. Any open skin would be bitten. I actually already had a couple of bites from something that wasn’t a mosquito (there were plenty of those too). Some clear liquid was oozing from the bitten places. I remember V was talking about some sort of black flies that were annoying caribou herds up North. Not sure if he was talking about the same. They looked a lot like the horse flies. Generally, flies didn’t bite in Europe. There was a similar insect, but it was mostly next to water. Despite all this, however, Prakash managed to put swimming trunks, goggles and swimming hat.
There were two dudes who were doing some day hike that passed us. Not sure which campground they stayed at. They went to hot water as soon as we left. The hot boiling river was going from somewhere that would be interesting to explore, but for some reason I missed that. After sitting in the hot tub for about an hour we gathered our belonging and continued the journey. It was rather pleasant. We were going along the Bechler river in a valley. Relatively small mountains on the sides, grass, trees, berries, mosquitoes. Had lunch across from a place that all maps for some reason call Patol Station and soon reached our first real river crossing.
Now, I knew that there would be river crossing and I stated this in the plan and asked people to bring appropriate gear. However, my impression was that the rivers will be slow. After all there was no melting snow nearby. But that river wasn’t slow at all – it was going. Good thing it wasn’t cold. So I recalled all my Alaska training – face the river, step sideways, unbuckle the hip belt – and just crossed. Comparing to the last time we did this in Yosemite this Bechler river wasn’t that bad. Rita, however got stuck and was asking for help. So I had to go back and hold her hand.
The map showed at least two crossings. Perhaps there were more, but it was hard to tell. The second crossing was trickier. The river looked bigger and deeper. I also knew that Rita would be in trouble, so I had to pair up with her. Prakash, who actually also had Alaska river crossings training, went first. He went directly from the end of the trail on this side to the other, which probably wasn’t the most efficient way. Shafi went after him. In the deepest point Shafi’s pole collapsed and he went down. He tried to get up and managed to do it on the second attempt. In the mean time he lost that collapsed pole, hat and sun glasses. Shafi was scared big time especially considering that he couldn’t swim. Shoot, I should have gone first as the leader. To somehow resolve the problem I decided to cross and leave the pack on the other side. While crossing back I found a much better place to cross, much shallower, a bit down the stream. I carried Rita’s pack while Prakash handheld Rita herself who became for some reason thirsty in the middle of the river (fear and stress probably). So eventually we all made it.
I decided to check a bit further the trail if there were any more crossings. I didn’t think that group was capable of any more crossings this day. Plus the river was getting bigger and bigger. But there were no more crossings and within an hour we reached our campground – 9B5 Colonnade Falls. The campground was very close to the Bechler river. There were some trees, but mostly bushes and grassland. There were just open spaces for tents and fire. The toilet was very close so everyone can see who is going.
September 6, Tuesday
Well, after an eventful previous day this one would be just a simple walking day. After the campground there was another beautiful waterfall. These waterfalls – this one Colonnade Falls and the Iris Falls – weren’t tall and massive like Yosemite falls. The terrain here didn’t allow for such tall falls. But they were rather wide. The entire Bechler river was falling down. In addition to that this was all in a valley with mountains and forest on both sides.
The trail was going on the side of the valley, flat. There was scree mingled with some forest. Lots of raspberry bushes on the trail. In reality I was expecting lot of berries in this park. But there weren’t many. Maybe it was late in the season or lack of rain. After the valley we went into a meadow. It was dry, but it looked that could be very swampy when the snow was still melting.
For lunch we did a small detour to the same old Bechler river. The same campground could also be reached by a different trail. However, it was longer and involved two river crossings. It was kind of hard to convince this group to do it. The river, however, wasn’t that bad. It wasn’t going down much and was quite mallow and easy to cross. During lunch we saw a couple of people going either to or from Bechler ranger station so they had to do all those river crossings.
After lunch we went to a forest again. It was hot and humid. It felt that a promised thunderstorm was coming. There were dark clouds and sometimes I heard thunder. But nothing came of it. Sad. A good short thunderstorm would be lovely. There were still river crossings, though not nearly as difficult as the day before. After a bit the forest leveled out into some sort of meadow sprinkled with spruce trees. It was fine walking, not difficult, just dusty and a bit boring. AT the edge of one the meadows was our campground – 9U1 Falls River Cutoff. According to the map it was a bit South from a trail junction. I wasn’t sure how far. Also, based on the scenery around I was afraid that it may be dry. But it was all good. The campground was pretty much right next to the junction. And there was a beautiful river close by. The campground was designed for many people and horses (or stock) so it had two food bars. But no one came and we had it all to ourselves.
There was standard cleaning, cooking, fire. I didn’t swim in the river again, although I was dusty all over. That place, however, was great for photography. At dusk the sun put this nice colors on the valley and the trees around. There were a couple of clouds to add some variety to the blue sky. The guys in the group went crazy taking photos. Not only the nature, but also posing. I also did a little. The problem was that the area was beautiful, but I didn’t know how to capture that beauty exactly. I saw that some good photo could be made there. I just didn’t know how.
September 7, Wednesday
Today is the finish day. The car should be waiting for us above the damn. My filter had finally conked out. The washer on the top that should prevent water from coming out of the pump was out. As a result the water was shooting, under good pressure, right towards the pumping handle. As a result the efficiency went down to maybe 10%. Since we didn’t have a backup, pumping for such a large group of heavy drinkers would take a very long time. Well, there was no backup filter, but we had iodine tablets. Personally, the water looked fine to me. It was moving fast so no stagnated water diseases and it wasn’t silty. But, to make sure, I mixed the required amount of tablets in the water bucket. The instructions were a bit confusing so I wasn’t exactly sure if I did it correctly.
Prakash, one of sudden, decided to shave. WTF? He was actually doing it before during the trip. Well, if not, then shaving that 5 days old beard would be a challenge. Still, who was he shaving for and spending all that hot water? The funny thing was that he didn’t have a mirror. So he used a camera to feed back video on the screen as a mirror.
We were making good progress. The trail was going through dense forest. This time there were blueberries. Small but very sweet. It was difficult not to stop and eat them. There were river crossings. One very long and difficult climb right in the middle of the day before lunch. At almost the end we get to Falls River river. Our last river crossing in the trip. It looked scary – wide, deep, and fast. This time I decided to go first and scout the route. But with all the scare the river wasn’t that difficult. It wasn’t very deep and quite refreshing.
After that with a bit of walking we were done. The van was in the expected spot, working fine. Everyone was in good spirits to finally reach the civilization. On the way back on that gravel road there were some obstacles. A biker who was going the other way said that there were fallen trees on the road. Great. How can we pass them. The first tree was a small pine. All our man together just pushed it off the road. It wasn’t that difficult. The second tree we just passed.
After the gravel dust we turned South and were going to Colter Bay Village. Beautiful view of the Jackson Lake with Tetons behind it. It was hard not to stop and take more photos. However, I was a bit afraid that the campground may not have any space. Colter Village was a busy place with all sorts of activities and services. They had a store, a restaurant, marina, showers and laundry. All the necessities. We got a camp spot and went to wash up. Prakash got us a family deal. I was kind of wondering if a family in this case would also require everyone to wash together. But in reality it was just a group discount. The laundry/shower even had free WiFi. Too bad that my phone for some reason was on all the time and now was out of power. I couldn’t find any plug to charge it.
After the showers we went to the shore of the Jackson lake. It was dusk again – the best time for photos. Beautiful sight to see with lake and mountains. It was getting a bit chilly after the sun went down. We went to eat to the only open place around – historic Ranch House restaurant. The description had that John Rockefeller Jr bought up all small places around and opened this one up to have good dining experience with nice view. Well, the view was out already, but we can assume that he was correct. This restaurant actually served buffalo steaks, which was what I had. With some less than average vine. Hari didn’t make a good selection this time. In addition to the steak there was salad buffet so we gorged again.
Finally, this day we were done by 9PM. I was hoping that there is a presentation in the visitor center, but there was none. The activities were closed for the season. I guess the fate was for me not see any ranger led presentation this trip. Prakash bought some wood, lemon and potatoes. He plan was to bake the potatoes. Not sure how exactly he was planning to do that or for how long. It takes a while to really get the ashes ready for the potatoes. We cooked them somehow, enough to try out.
The campground was standard – flat sandy forest. Pretty large. I guess commercial operation so they want to maximize guests per number of stuff. Lots of RVs, no hot water in the restroom. It had a heater but it wasn’t working. The place had this feeling that the season was over. There were no ranger activities; the Chinese guys in the shower room were saying that they will go back in a week. I wonder if anything will even be open in a couple of weeks. However, it would be interesting to visit this place in other seasons.
September 8, Thursday
Get up, trying to warm up after a cold night. After packing we stumbled into the only open restaurant in the area. The same one that we had dinner the night before. I didn’t really want to do all this sit down restaurant thing because it usually takes way too long and I end up eating too much. But due to a lack of alternative I wasn’t insisting too hard. I thought that perhaps they have something small simple and fast. Well, the only thing they had was a buffet breakfast. Standard American food with paper fried bacon, sausages, eggs, pancakes, fruits, and coffee. Enough calories to run a marathon. So with all that food we barely rolled out of there by 10AM. A bit late. There was a very long drive ahead. However, with all that food we probably won’t have to stop for lunch. We stopped at now open visitor center for some browsing. They also had Indian Art museum, but we didn’t have time for detailed browsing.
The first part of the drive was through gorgeous Grand Teton NP. That was the highway from which all that iconic images are made – a valley, lake, and sharp peaks rising behind it.
After that it was just driving with nothing much spectacular to see. This road, however, was a bit different from the Idaho side. There were more mountains here. Idaho was mostly flat. Hari was blasting like mad. With all the food and photography we were running late. We still had to wash the car, return one bear spray and extra fuel. It all had to be done before 5PM.
We made it to Salt Lake City by 5:30PM or so. I’ve called the rental guys that we were going to be late. They told us to leave the van at some partner place called Park & Jet. We got it washed. Returned one unopened Bear Spray. However, getting rid of extra fuel was a challenge – they didn’t know what to do with it at REI. Finally they found some bottle that can be used to store our fuel.
That was all. We get the bugs, passed the bogus security, bought some food for the flight. The flight was again like a bus with a stop in LA. Some sort of sport team was traveling. Filled up almost the entire plane. On the way back Prakash’s friend gave us a ride home.
The trip with a couple of hiccups went quite well. No one got injured, the route wasn’t altered. A note for the future: get a map with campsites. National geographic sells one big Yellowstone map and smaller sectional maps. The sectional maps have the campgrounds on them, also mileage and river crossing information. Much more useful.
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