Monday, September 2, 2013

Oh Yellowstone!
But Oh So Short!

Sep 2, 2013

Labor Day weekend was a day away and we were having trouble finding a hotel room in Missoula for Saturday and Sunday. Checking various hotels on my computer in our hotel room in Sheridan, Wyoming, I came up with, er, zero availability. Why had we been so tardy in checking?

We've become very laid back travelers in recent years. I blame this, partly, on the advent of smart phones and partly on being jaded and experienced sojourners. Now we no longer buy tour books or maps, believing, stupidly, that we can do everything on a phone or computer. That got us into a lot of trouble last summer in the U.K. when driving, with friends Janie and Mark, from the Cotswolds to Wales. "Don't worry, I'll use Google Maps and GPS on my phone," I had boasted. The only problem with that idea is that you have to have cellular service for it to work and that turned out to be very spotty or non-existant in rural sections of England. As a result we ended up going around in a big circle leaving Stow-On-The-Wold and then finding ourselves right back where we had started an hour before! Likewise, when we crossed from England to Wales and within striking distance of our destination, an hour later we came across a sign that said "Welcome To England" ... we were back at the border! Funny but it didn't seem funny when it happened as it turned a four hour trip into seven!

Anyway, what to do about that problem of no hotel rooms (remember, travelling with three dogs in the back seat, leaves us with fewer choices to start with)? Finally we decided that we'd cut west through Yellowstone Park instead of skirting it and heading to Missoula. And after Yellowstone, we'd stop for Saturday night in Bozeman instead of Missoula, pushing our arrival there forward to Sunday and Monday. That new combination of room requests worked. But we didn't realize how long the trip to and through Yellowstone would take and how late in the day we'd reach the park (almost at sunset).

Truthfully, Yellowstone deserves a week not a late afternoon excursion. Sitting in a Mexican restaurant in the sweet town of Cody at 4 o'clock, Stacey suggested we stay there for the night, tour Yellowstone the next day (Sunday) and then hit Missoula on Monday. A perfectly sane and logical idea which I, as a stubborn old man, thought ridiculous. She was right. I was wrong. Having said that, Yellowstone was gorgeous and Bighorn National Forest, which we had to cross first, took our breath away with its rugged mountains, twisty-turny road with a multitude of switchbacks and spectacular views.

Beginning at Sheridan, we crossed Bighorn, had a late lunch at Cody, then continued into Yellowstone.
Finally a long, long (and dark) drive to our Saturday night hotel in Bozeman, Montana.
CLICK MAP to see it large.

Pyramid Peak viewed from a turnout in  Bighorn National Forest.
More people live on my block in Brooklyn than in Shell, Montana.
The sun was about to set as we finally hit Yellowstone Park. The first things to greet us as we rounded a curve were a trio of enormous bison. They plodded slowly right toward us, giving us a jolt and a scare though they didn't even look at us as they passed our car.

Rounding a bend in the road, who should we see but three beautiful beasts.

Though it was late in the day it was still beautiful to see vast Yellowstone Lake. It brought back memories of my last trip there in 1965 with my dear friend Lonnie. But this time, sadly, huge areas of the park had been hit in recent years by forest fires and blackened stalks of pine trees lined the sides of mountains. New growth was already replacing the old, burned trees but news reports say that this season out west is the worst one ever. Another sign of the fragile and perilous state of our environment (GOP foolish naysayers notwithstanding).
Beautiful Lake Yellowstone brought back memories of my last trip in 1965.

Large tracts of  fire-damaged pine forest greeted our view.
We drove half way around the lake and saw still more bison feasting on long grass next to a campground. They ignored the humans who were ogling them, preferring the long grass to chatting with people. With one last view of the sunset-lit lake, we continued on for another two hours in the dark, to our hotel room in Bozeman. Tomorrow we would head for Missoula where we'd stay two days on the recommendation of our friend Jane who has family there. She visits regularly and highly recommends exploring this sweet college town. On that, more in my next post.

Can you wait till then?

 - Matt

Bison feeding on long grass right next to a campground. Humans? Whatever.

Our last view of Yellowstone Lake, lit by sunset.
Again, click to see full size!
To see the rest of today's photos go HERE.