Here There and Everywhere

Expat wanderer

Into The Great Wide Open, Day 10, Lamar Valley, Gardiner, Montana and Reflections

We are up at 6:30 without even setting the alarm, and head out to pick up coffee and go directly to Lamar Valley. Once again, no biscotti. AdventureMan buys a muffin, too sweet for me.

Great clouds

There was a heavy rain last night, the day is very clear, partly cloudy, with rays of sun beaming down. It is beautiful. Just past Roosevelt Lodge, and the turn to Lamar Valley, a truck in front of us slows down as a group of bison approach the road, maybe 20 of them, and start a trek across the bridge over the Yellowstone River. Cars start to pile up behind us, but they are all the kinds of early morning people who are respectful, there is no honking or people exiting their cars to take photos, and it is really a delightful experience. 

On the other side of the bridge is a trail the bison are climbing to get wherever bison go. Why shouldn’t they take the easy route, rather than down into the basin, cross the river, struggle up the other side? 

Because it’s so beautiful and I cannot resist . . .

We saw lots of groups looking for wolves in Lamar Valley, and bear, but we saw no wolves or bear. Often they are just little dots, off in the distance. We see many anglers casting their lines in the Soda Butte River, having the time of their life. Maybe they are all catching and releasing; I never see any fish being taken back to the cars. 

Ranger heading down into Slough Creek

When we got to the Soda Butte the light was beautiful. It has been blocked off since the time we walked around it and attracted the attention of a very annoyed bison, probably because people like us were attracting too much negative attention of territorial bison. 

We went into Gardiner for breakfast, eager to get back to Tumbleweeks, a combination book store and cafe we particularly like. I had hot cereal with fruits, and . . . a slice of coffee cake, full of huckleberries and raspberries. One bite and I knew I was in trouble – it was SO sweet. And I ate the whole thing, knowing I would pay the price. (I did. The next morning I had the worst blood sugar reading I’ve had all year. I am usually so careful. I still remember that slice of coffee cake with great fondness.Sometimes we can’t help what we love.)

Tumbleweeds is doing gang-buster business, of course. You have a good product, it attracts business. They also are located next to Flying Pig adventure rafting business, and they have a sign that says “You do not get fast tracked because your rafting trip is about to leave.” I can only imagine the situations that have led to the posting of that sign. We heard one of the guides say to the cashier that they were closing down; “once the rains came the season is over.” People are closing up outside the park, also, clearly, inside. Yesterday, in the coffee line at the Mammoth Springs Hotel, we learned that there is noplace in Mammoth Springs serving breakfast; they tell people to go into Gardiner. 

En route back into the park from Gardiner, there is not even a person at the gate to check our pass. Back in Mammoth Springs, we walk around the village, visit the old Mail Carriers House, and head back to A23, our cabin. We ask the housekeeper about all the empty cabins, and she says “Yes, many cabins have been blocked because we don’t have people to care for them.”

I have a friend, a little younger, who asked me how aging is impacting the way we travel. I remember telling her first, that it hadn’t. Then, as I thought about my answer, I had to go back to her and tell her that we have changed, and because AdventureMan would get sick and tired from so much driving, we had devised a strategy of “shorter days, longer stays.”

On this trip, we discovered we still have the energy, we can do more than 10,000 steps per day, but we have to do it earlier, and later, and we have to have a rest or a nap in the middle of the day. Our transition days are the hardest, when we have driven further and we really need a nap and our room isn’t ready yet. 

In spite of rests we are sleeping very well, mainly due to quiet locales and cooler nights, also good mattresses. We also need our reading glasses more often, for maps, for menus, for directions, for bills and receipts, for fine print in guide books.

So we are packing, tomorrow is another transition day, Mammoth Springs to Teton Village, just outside Jackson Hole, WY.

I like my small suitcase; it is easy to manage, and I have enough clothing because I wear the same things over and over. I only brought the one sweatshirt; sweatshirts take up a lot of room. I brought too many short sleeve shirts. I brought one very casual dress and one dress that works for dinner, and one linen dress I use for travel and for transition days. All three of those items did heavy duty in the two weeks. One skirt got baggy because I wore it so often, it was pure cotton; the skirt that had some spandex in it kept its shape better. 

As we sit outside on our porch, we talk with some people we have talked with before; we were talking with them when I spotted the elk walking by behind our cabins, so they also got some shots. They were up this morning at 3:30 to go out with a Wolf spotting team and they saw lots and lots of wolves in Lamar Valley, and watched two packs of wolves meet up with each other. 

We have never seen wolves in Lamar Valley. We go there a lot, but I guess not early enough and/or not with the right people.

Tonight, we have our last dinner at Wonderland, but this is a valuable and hilarious evening. We know they open at five, so we make it a point to be there at 4:30. 

The word is out. Wonderland already has a line about twenty-five people long when we arrive. We are behind a group that is talking about having been out this morning watching for wolves, and they saw two packs of wolves meeting up, something no-one has seen before.

We can’t even look at each other. We have heard this phrase often, on safari in Africa. The wildlife spotters work together, they contact one another, they do their best to make sure their clients spot the game they want to see. 

So we’ve been looking for wolves and never saw a one. 

Next time, we might have to bite the bullet and hire a game spotter. We kind of prefer being on our own, not being in a group with other people, not being subject to someone else’s agenda, not being a part of those big groups along the side of the road. But this is our last night in Yellowstone, and we are thinking we might need to bend a little if we want to see wolves.

Squash Soup
Grilled Chicken Caesar
Caldera Burger

Dinner at Wonderland is delicious, as always. I have the squash soup and a grilled chicken Caesar, and AdventureMan has the Caldera Burger, which he loves. We love to watch the Wonderland team work together; they are a great team.

September 15, 2021 Posted by | Adventure, Aging, Beauty, Cultural, Eating Out, Living Conditions, Quality of Life Issues, Random Musings, Relationships, Restaurant, Road Trips, Travel | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Into The Great Wide Open, Day 9, Lamar Valley, Yellowstone, and Cooke City, Montana

Up early, head to the main hotel for coffee but the biscotti are already sold out, even though the shop just opened. The Tauck bus or the Le Bus group must have bought everything available. No matter, we grab our coffee, we have tangerines and AdventureMan still has a brownie left from yesterday. 

It is cloudy and sunny. AdventureMan hikes to Wraith Falls, a place we hiked last year and reports back that the falls are not so full as they were in the Spring, no great surprise. Together we take a nature hike highlighting the volcanic and geologic nature of the Yellowstone Crater; we have it entirely to ourselves. 

It is still early, barely sunrise, when we take a turn off the main road onto Black Tail Butte Road, a six mile, one way dirt road closed to campers and large vehicles. It goes high into a mountain, and the vistas are stunning. 

Then, all of a sudden, an old bull bison is strolling down the road towards us. He doesn’t look particularly concerned, but AdventureMan slows to a stop out of respect. Occasionally, he gives us a glance. He seems benign, but with wild animals, you never know, anything can happen.

“You Mind Your Business and I’ll Mind My Own.”

 AdventureMan doesn’t say it until well after the bull has passed, but he is thinking about how isolated this road is, how few people take this route and what if the bull charged us and damaged the rental car. None of this happened. 

The road rejoins the main route just before Tower Junction and the Roosevelt Inn, a great rest stop for coffee drinkers and also a place with sturdy trash receptacles. We’ve learned to keep an alert eye for both. 

We spend some time once again in the Slough Creek area, meet a delightful guide named Rachel who is with an adventure/eco tour and helps us spot white sheep up on a distant hillside. Skipped the photos; even with my large telephoto, they were just white dots on the distant hill. Rachel had a glorious standing telescope that helped her spot wildlife.

Apples with peanut butter for a great breakfast

Today we head outside the park past Lamar Valley (lots of groups stopped looking for wolves) and out to Cooke City, where we have trout at The Bistro. We look around a little, then head back, timing what it takes us to drive different segments:

Lamar to where the Osprey nests: 20 minutes

Osprey nest to Roosevelt: 10 minutes

Roosevelt to Mammoth Springs: 30 minutes.

Of course, when we stop to watch or to photograph, it takes a lot longer.

Today we see one of the crazy people, out of their car, trying to get close to bison who are well aware they are there, and a lot faster than they look.

Crazy

We head on for Cooke City, where we find the Bistro. We don’t even have to look at the menu; we have eaten here before and we are eager for trout!

Tonight we find sandwiches at the Mammoth Springs Trading Post, and we eat on our front porch, watching the colors change on the terraces as the sun goes down. We drink the last of our cherry juice, treasuring every drop. It looks like we are drinking red wine, but we are not.

We keep hoping that bull elk will come by once again. If he does, we don’t see him.

September 15, 2021 Posted by | Adventure, Beauty, Road Trips, Travel | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Into the Great Wide Open: Day 7, Mammoth Hot Springs and Yellowstone National Park

Chico Hot Springs is a mere 40 minutes from Gardiner, our favorite town just north of Mammoth Hot Springs where we will be spending the next four nights. We head straight for Tumbleweeds, a bookstore that also is semi-bakery and has breakfasts and lunch. But, as it turns out, only Thursday – Friday – Saturday these days, so we have to find someplace else. There is a long line outside the Antler Grill and there is something of a line at the Cowboy Bar and Grill, where we have never eaten but would like to give it a try.

There is a sign on the door saying help wanted, and several people seated outside. We missed those clues. We got inside, and the only person we could see who looked like she worked there totally ignored us. The sign said “please wait to be seated” so we waited. And waited. And waited a little more. It could have been annoying, but we had seen this same situation in Glacier and had a good idea what was going on. 

Eventually, the waitress – who was also cashier, and hostess, asked if we wanted to be on the wait list, and we said yes. She called the names of the people outside, and then, at the end, called our name, too, so we only had to wait about 40 minutes. 

For me, it was worth it. I ordered something called the sausage scramble, and one of the choices for sides was “greens.” I am wired to have a hunger for greens, so I ordered greens and I also ordered a side of jalapeño huckleberry sauce to go with my egg scramble. 

Breakfast actually came fairly quickly, even though everyone else in front of us got served first. The cook was quick and the server was also quick. My “greens” turned out to be a nice big bowl of mixed greens, covered with sunflower seeds, which I love, and dressed with an orange vinaigrette that was out of this world. It might have been that I was really hungry by then, but I remembered that bowl of salad as one of the best taste-treats of the trip. I also really loved the jalapeño huckleberry sauce.

AventureMan had the bacon scramble and focaccia bread, and the bread was also delicious. Things had slowed down and we had a chance to talk with the cashier/waitress/hostess and discovered she is Jamaican, a business student, and in a couple weeks she will be back at university. She is doing this as a summer job, and has worked very hard all summer, short-handed the entire time.

The hardest working people we found as we travelled were foreign workers and people as old as we are.

We shopped for dinner at this traveler friendly Gardiner Grocery Store
All traffic stops for bison

By this time it is maybe ten-thirty, we drive into Mammoth Springs and we don’t even stop because there is no way our cabin will be ready. We head straight out to one of our happy places, Lamar Valley. Near Tower junction there is a group of bison blocking traffic, just tarrying along, and people are going wild taking photos. We are patient, and head first for Roosevelt Lodge, which has never been open when we have visited Yellowstone previously. 

Probably the best Bison shot I’ve ever had, and it’s through a side window, no composition, just pure luck.

Nice clean restrooms. Roosevelt Lodge has the reputation of being a good place to stop for lunch, but they are not serving meals. They have a Grab n Go sign, and then entire lobby area is EMPTY. We headed on to Slough Creek, one of our favorite spots to tarry, and Lamar Valley.

There are restrooms at the entrance to Slough Creek, but we pass them by. We know there is also a restroom at the end of the road, but today we get a thrill – at the end of the road is a gate. The gate is open. There is no sign saying Do Not Enter, so that means you can enter, right?

The truth is, probably 90% of the people who visit Lamar Valley never go down this bumpy unpaved road to Slough Creek. Even fewer know that through the gate is the entrance to the Slough Creek Campground, one of the sweetest, most private camping areas in Yellowstone, right on the bank of Slough Creek. 

There is a hiking trail which goes beyond the campground. We hike out for a while, and we spot otter! Off in the distance, we spot a couple men riding out on horses, maybe they are rangers, although there is also a horse rental operation back at the area where we went through the gate. 

The are is so beautiful, so quiet and so peaceful that we settle for a while and watch the otter play, and the water ripple by in the large creek. We talk a little with people coming to camp there. There is also a nice clean restroom there, actually several in different parts of the campground. It is a serene and awe-inspiring place to just be.

As we headed back into Mammoth Springs to sign into our room, we passed a large group of cars parked desperately along both sides of the highway, watching a tiny bear walk along a path on a nearby hill. We understand this might be the only bear these people ever see, and we also wish they would be more respectful. Stay in your cars! Don’t whistle or call to the bear trying to attract his attention! Let the bear just do his bear thing. We drove by as quickly as we could, we just wanted to get away.

AdventureMan is edgy, he wants more walking. I assure him tomorrow will be full of walking. We check into our cabin, and AdventureMan insists it is bigger than the last cabin we had. I don’t think so. I think they moved some of the furniture out and it seemed more spacious, but it looks the same size to me. All these cabins were built about the same time, probably a WPA project. We have a bathroom; some of the cabins don’t. They use the group toilet and shower facilities in the cabin area.

As we walk around the cabin area, we see that many of the cabins are empty, which is puzzling, because when I reserved, back in December, the cabins were mostly sold out. We speculated that it was again, a demographics problem, too few people willing to take a chance of remote working conditions during COVID. People our age are retiring and, like us, traveling. Younger people may not want to expose themselves, or don’t have child care so that they can work. As we got to know the housekeepers, they confirmed our suspicious. This was the hardest they have ever worked, too much work to do, cleaning, laundry, maintenance of cabins, and too few people to do the work. 

We drove to the upper terrace road near sunset, and walked to Canary Springs. It was a beautiful time of day to be there for some dramatic photos, but not so dramatic as the cold mornings, when the steam would billow out of the hot springs.

Dinner was on our front porch, with a view of the Mammoth Springs terraces. We had picked it up in Gardiner at Gardiner groceries, where they had wonderful sandwiches, wraps and all kinds of condiments. I had my chicken wrap with Salsa Verde, and it was delicious.

September 14, 2021 Posted by | Adventure, Beauty, Civility, Cultural, Eating Out, Food, Geography / Maps, Hotels, Restaurant, Road Trips, Travel | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Yellowstone: Wonderland and Last Trip to Lamar Valley

When we finish hiking the terraces, it is still early. We decide we do not want to eat breakfast in the Dining Room, so we go into Gardiner, back to The Wonderland Cafe and Lodge. The Cafe is already full, a few tables with couples and one very large table with a local woman’s group. They are having such a good time, it made me feel like home. I saw one bring in a bag of books for another, and I thought “I could be happy living here.”

We order and are delighted with our choices. My husband tried Avocado Toast for the first time, and thoroughly enjoyed the combination of flavors. I had the breakfast burrito.

 

 

It’s a hearty breakfast, and we know we won’t need to eat for a long while, so we head back out to Lamar valley, still looking for those wolves around Slough Creek. On the way back into the park, we stopped to take a photo at the 45th latitude. We thought that was pretty cool. You’ll note we are still in heavier clothes at this point.

On the way we hike up to Wraith Falls; it’s an easy hike, only half a mile there and back. You can’t really get too close with all the wood fall, but it is a lovely cascading kind of falls.

 

 

 

 

My husband had some interest in the petrified forest, but we figured maybe the next trip. What I like about this photo of the deer is that it looks like one would prefer to go one way and the other in a different direction. It kind of cracked me up.

Back in Slough Creek again, looking around for those wolves. Did not see any wolves, nor the babies we had heard about, but I took a photo of this wonderful rock. In Alaska, and in the Seattle area, people pay big money to have a great huge rock in their yard, like a landscape focus. I think it has to do with Scandinavian blood, and glaciation, the fact that these great huge rocks are brought from mountains, many miles, and then are dumped where the ice melts. You will see valleys full of great huge rocks, with no source in sight. Many have come for miles. This one looks to me like a very alien rock; he has a curved round head and on either side of his cracked (helmut?) you can see his alien eyes.

 

Also in the valley at Slough Creek, we find anglers; at one time three of them angling. We never saw them catch anything.

 

Out on the edge of a large plain between the mountains, a huge valley where the Bison were slowly brought back from near extinction, is this formation, called Soda Butte. It has a hot spring that kept springing up, depositing minerals, until it built this anomalous structure. We hiked around it to get a view of the other side.

 

 

 

 

We see bison grazing peacefully across the river, except for one, who is looking at us and moving quickly and purposefully toward us. Hmmm, those big guys can move pretty fast. We calmly and quickly walk to our car and get in. The bison comes all the way to where we were standing and fortunately, stops. After the adventure with the elk, we aren’t taking any chances. Most of the bison we have encountered have been placid and uninterested in humans, but wildlife is wild. They don’t think like we think, and we don’t take anything for granted.

No, I didn’t stop to take this photo, I was taking this photo when I noticed he was running towards us.

 

We see a clump of cars, and as we approach, we see a woman walking in our direction. “What have they spotted?” we ask her, and she says “Oh, there is a bear, high on the hill, they are watching him. He is the size of a little tiny dot.” We’ve seen a lot of bear. The rangers are already here, encouraging people to move their cars, park legally, but there a lot of sharp drops here, and not a lot of parking spaces.

I don’t know a lot about the Ranger program at Yellowstone, but it appears to me that there are a lot of trained people out observing animals, good at spotting them, and generous about pointing them out to others I would think they are photographers, but they are not. They have these super telescopes, like uniscopes, which are very powerful. If they are Rangers, out spotting game for the visitors, I think that is a lovely service.

We dawdle our way back toward Roosevelt Station, where the road heads out to Lamar Road. As we cross the Yellowstone River and head towards the junction, we see a large group of men and women walking in the direction from which we are coming. “What are you doing?” we asked, and they said “Ranger training.” How cool is that?

The Roosevelt Lodge isn’t open yet, but will open soon. How do we know that? We see stagecoaches, and what I take to be a chuckwagon, on rubber wheels, practicing in the large field where two days ago we saw coyote. They are having a lot of fun practicing. And note, a placid bison.

 

 

 

 

Back in Mammoth Hot Springs, we stop to take a photo of the old Fort Yellowstone church. This was our goal the elk attacked AdventureMan, and we never made it to the church. We have  a beautiful day for a photo.

We stop by the General Store, pick up some sandwiches for dinner on the porch, and some huckleberry ice cream cones to give us energy to pack up for tomorrow’s departure. The sandwiches in the General Store are huge, so huge we can never eat the whole sandwich. They are on big bread, and the bread is also thick. The filling is generous, thick. We hate to waste food, but we can’t eat the whole sandwich.

We’ve had a great visit to Mammoth Hot Springs. We can’t wait to bring our family here.

June 25, 2019 Posted by | Adventure, Building, Civility, Customer Service, Restaurant, Road Trips, Travel, Weather | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Yellowstone: Dunraven Pass, Tower Falls and Lamar Valley

Today we are headed north out of Canyon Village, through Dunraven Pass, which just opened a few days ago, up to Tower Falls and Roosevelt Lodge, and out to Lamar Valley. Lamar Valley is where after decades of killing wolves, wolves have been reintroduced and are rebalancing the Yellowstone ecosystem.

The early morning is cloudy and dark, we worry about ice on Dunraven Pass. We watch the temperatures drop below freezing as we head up, but soon we are safely on the other side. (We had snow on the way home, coming through the pass.)

Along the road – you have to keep your eyes open.

We took a short hike to the outlook over Tower Falls – it is an easy hike, and if you get there early enough, there is good parking. The General Store was not open, though, so we fixed apples and peanut butter for breakfast.

 

 

This is not a tour bus. This is a Yellow Cab, a special kind of tour vehicle that makes me smile every time I see it. I heard they stopped using them for a while, but they had so much appeal that the management brought them back. Good call!

 

Little deer jumping over a creek

Bison on the road at Slough Creek, one of our favorite haunts in Lamar Valley. Unpaved, but drivable. Rumored to be one or more wolf packs that hang out there, but we never saw them.

 

AdventureMan getting a snack at Slough Creek

AdventureMan loved these little rodents; they were everywhere.

 

It’s past noon and we head into Cooke City, outside the northeast entrance to the Park for a bite to eat. We find The Bistro, and I have a meal I love – trout, pan fried with garlic and parsley in butter. Simple, and so good. AdventureMan has the same meal, with fries. The Bistro also has burgers and salads, but we wanted trout.

 

 

 

 

It’s hard to think about dinner when you’ve just had a meal so satisfying, but we remember the horror show dinner of last night and decide to order food to take with us. AdventureMan goes to one restaurant for a chef’s salad, and I cross the street to Buns and Beds for an Italian Sandwich.

 

 

 

Next door is the Beartooth Cafe, a place I would love to try next time:

 

 

 

We buy some T-shirts for the grandchildren at the Yellowstone Trading Post, and they tell us we spent enough that we get to go in and see the wildlife exhibit. Someone has an amazing skill with taxidermy.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Do you have the National Parks Senior Pass? I think we paid $10 or $20 each to get one; you can get them when you turn 62, but now the price has gone up to $80. I still think it is a deal. If you have the pass, you have free entry into all the national parks – starting, for us, with Fort Pickens, here in Pensacola, and taking us to all these amazing places we’ve been going through the years. They pay for themselves quickly.

 

Leaving Cooke City

 

Heading back into Yellowstone through “Silver” pass:

 

 

Big horn sheep

Coyote running near Roosevelt Station

June 23, 2019 Posted by | Adventure, Geography / Maps, Road Trips, Travel, Wildlife | , , , , , , | Leave a comment