Friday, September 5, 2014

Yellowstone, August 22-26

Due to other commitments and a few weddings this year we knew we wouldn't be able to take a nice 10 day trip. So, where else to go? We needed something within a day's ride and preferably a place we hadn't been before. So about 8 months ago we got the map out! Hey, wait a minute, who knew Yellowstone was this close? Sounds amazing, let the planning begin. We opted for August, while the weather could be a little tricky kids were back in school and crowds should be less. Rain/fog/cold is far more tolerable than packed viewpoints and trailheads we thought, and good thing cause that's exactly what we got. Staying IN the park was a must to take advantage of a short trip, but campgrounds were first come first served and aimed squarely at the RV crowd. Impressively the "rustic cabins" (as in shared bathrooms) at the Old Faithful Lodge were affordable! Expensive for a basic cabin, but there were real beds with real sheets, real towels, electricity and heat. Reserved!

1700 miles for the whole route:

We left early afternoon Friday, took the interstate up to Douglas, WY then off the big road back south to Ayers Natural Bridge. Beautiful little state park with free first come, first serve camping. The place was full, but the host was kind enough to lead us to the unused group campsite. Whew! Check out this place.

Funky trees doubling as drying racks for the rain gear

Bunnies galore

A good distance away from the packed regular camping area, full of families and kids and campfires. Nice and quiet where we were.

By the time we got setup and such, it was a bit too dark to get good pictures of the arch. It's one of only three natural bridges in the US with water running under it. Snagged this picture off the web so you can see:

Funky trees

Saturday morning! It's time to go to Yellowstone! I was so excited I could explode. Here comes the sun.

Coffee, tea and breakfast down the hatch. Just about packed up and ready to continue on!

LOVE this picture of Karla on her bike. What a woman!

Today's route

Thermopolis, WY. The town claims this is the largest mineral hot springs in the world! I have no idea if this is true, but it was neat.

Yep. She's fantastic.

This sort of weather would be with us all weekend

It's alright though, look how beautiful everything is!

Watched the storms roll through the canyons

Everybody takes selfies. Mine are just more awesome. And have gorilla tape prominently featured. LOL!!

Twisty twisty.

See the snow!

Burns are beautiful

Zoom Zoom.

We made it!! Ok well we made it to the sign. Holy smokes Yellowstone is HUGE.

The Old Faithful compound is a bit confusing... We stopped first at the Old Faithful Inn (when actually we needed to check in at the Old Faithful "Lodge"). Check this place out!!!

These were tooling around everywhere, the tour buses.

We finally found our way to our "rustic" cabin. Look how cute it is! We were cold and wet, well atleast I was. I don't have a fancy suit like Karla does, what a godsend that was. We were happy to have a place with a real bed, linens, towels and a heater! Cranked that sucker all the way up.

Our cabin was kinda on the other side Old Faithful from the Old Faithful Inn. We decided to unpack and change quick and take a walk.

The Old Faithful Lodge from the geyser side, this is where we checked in.

The Snow Lodge

Made our way back around to the Inn. The detail on this place. Do you know they built this in one winter?? Seriously! Winter of 1903-1904. Crazy people.

The inside... Breathtaking. And nearly impossible to photograph with my camera! I look forward to next time and exploring this place further.

Heck just the door hinge was the size of my hand. The hand tooled detail was mesmorizing.

The key was a foot long

Check out the handle

LOL, can you see Karla?

Even the recycling bins were beautiful

Gotta be, look at the Inn!!

I bet you can guess what we're gonna see next!

Lots of geologic activity around Old Faithful! It might be cold and drizzly and the sun is fading, but we couldn't be happier outside exploring.

While the crowds were sparse we thought our pictures would look much better without the random strangers... Did this work? LOL! We weren't having any fun at all.

Yes lets go this way

This place is amazing! Like knock your socks off amazing.

Little holes were steaming

Big holes were steaming

Old Faithful and the Inn

Check this out!

Got to see Old Faithful go again from the other side!

Great day.

Amazing these grasses and such could grow right next to these steaming pools

We know what Karla is always taking pictures of :)

They were beautiful. The next three are from her phone.

Whew. Big and amazing day! We got a great night's sleep in our little cabin, that place was worth it's weight in gold with the dreary weather.

Sunday dawned, well didn't really see a dawn, too cloudy. 29 degrees! Check out who I found on the way to the bathrooms (our cabin didn't have it's own). Just hanging out munching grass.

Definitely on the small side, but it was neat to be this close!

I ran back to the cabin, knocked on the door cause I didn't have a key with me. Karla said something about a password, I replied "you better get your shoes on and get out here quick!"

See the guy in the blue jacket? That's his cabin the buffalo was grazing in front of!

Chains lubed and bikes are ready to go!

Everyone says there's no way you can see Yellowstone in a day, and we certainly didn't intend to. However I had done my best to kinda map out some geologic highlights.

First stop was the Mud Volcanoes! Odd things. Why were they muddy and the ones not far away were so clear you felt like you could see to the earth's core?

Looks to me like the holes we used to dig on the beach when they'd fill with seawater and stir the mud up!

Walked up and checked this out, worth the stop!

Back on the bikes to our next stop, Uncle Tom's Trail! It'll drop us down to a lower viewpoint of the Lower Falls of the Yellowstone Grand Canyon. I've been told not to miss this one. I mean, who doesn't love 328 metal steps??

Down we go!

Catching glimpses of mist from the lower falls through the trees.

Did I mention the weather was dramatic and the crowds were far less than I expected?

Keep going....

Dang. That's a lot of water.

Can you see where the mist hits the rocks and the water forms little streams? Neat!

We had the lower platform mostly to ourselves. I can't even imagine how packed this tiny space gets in June/July.

Look what Karla found on the way up

Beautiful view of the Upper Falls from the Uncle Tom's trailhead!

Next up was Artist Point! Check out this view

This was when I proposed! Instead of repeating myself, here is the story:

To get a different view of the canyon, we rode up to Inspiration Point

It was... Uninspiring...

These trees were neat though

As we looped back towards Old Faithful, next up was the Norris Geyser Basin. Check out what rolled through the parking lot!! We both needed paper towels to wipe up the drool...

We didn't stop in the museum (for another time), but the building was beautiful. Still impressed with the lack of crowds!

The basin is down there

Karla for a sense of scale

Stay on the boardwalks, cause the ground might just cave beneath you!

This one really got us laughing. "I have a mole??"

For those that aren't familiar, it's a scene from Robin Hood Men in Tights, a Mel Brooks movie. Here's a quick clip, miserable quality but it's the only one I could find...

Made the loop, looking back on the basin

Back on the bikes, next stop was the Fairy Falls parking area where we could hike up for a great view of the famous Prismatic Spring. Saw this on our walk in:

I felt like I could loose myself staring into these pools

Up, up, up we go! This was about half way

About where we stopped for photos

Here's what you see looking the other way. WOW. Well worth the effort!

I love the west. Everything is just more... Grand.

We just sat a while.

It was so nice and quiet. No one there but us.

Back down we go

Karla took these with her cell phone. I can't wait to get a real camera in her hands!! She's developed a really good eye, often giving me suggestions for vantage points.

Yep. Well done honey!

On Monday we started early again, who wants to sleep!!?? Another bucket list day for me, we were set to ride the Chief Joseph and Beartooth Pass Scenic Byways!! Oh yeah!!

And look what we found on the west side of Chief Joseph, SUN! Oh man it felt good. Wide open spaces out here. We both hopped on the intercom and agreed we would happily spend the rest of our days in a cabin out here. Stopped before starting up Chief Joseph pass for the GoPro and some photos.

The way we came

The way we were headed. You can barely make out the road heading up the mountain.

Here we go!! Didn't stop at the crest as the slow Harley rider that was completely ignoring us and the speed limit (he was doing 5-10 UNDER) was driving me insane and I just wanted to move on before I did something stupid.... Back into the clouds on the other side, but that sun was fantastic while it lasted. Don't forget you can crank the quality up and go full screen if you'd like!

We were having so much fun we rode right through lunchtime. Oops. We stopped just after 1pm down at the bottom. I know sun is nice, but man this cloudy weather really brings out the color!

Next we looped around through Red Lodge, MT. It was like Estes Park, but much bigger. Definitely a large, beautiful tourist destination. Quick stop for fuel and lets hit Beartooth!! I really couldn't wait for this one!

It didn't disappoint. It's not as high as Trail Ridge Road in Rocky Mountain National Park, but it takes you way above treeline cresting at 10.947'. Trail Ridge has better vistas and mountain views. What I loved about Beartooth was the lack of traffic and how long this beautiful road lasted! It just went on and on and on.

Can you see the "bear's tooth?" Just to the right of center of the mountains in the background

The trusty steeds. Karla's 2000 Kawasaki ZR7 with 42,000 miles

My 2006 Kawasaki Ninja 650R with 73,000 miles

Back down!

In case you don't watch the video, look what we found down a dirt road along the way! Got a short moment of sun to take this picture.

About 5 minutes from Old Faithful the sun peaked out again just as it was setting. Really lit everything up. Flipped a uwey (lol, sp??) to snag this. Best picture of the trip in our opinion. We intend to blow it up poster size it and frame it for the house. Will go great with our other photos!

Got back in time for dinner and time to get everything packed up we could. We had a huge day to get home, so an early start was the name of the game.

600 miles. With the Tetons and stops and weather it ended up taking us 12 hours. It was a blast!!

Woke up early to this... And 34 degrees... Uh oh, that's not gonna help forward progress this morning!

For comparison, I took this picture at about the same time the previous morning on my cell phone:

Here's the same shot Tuesday morning!

I was down to the last little bit of the last canister of my trusty GAZ stove. We burned the last of it so we didn't have to carry it home. I almost had to say a euology. This tiny Frenchman (French company) has been with me for a long, long time. Coleman bought them out in the mid 90s, and by the mid 2000s canisters were nearly impossible to find. I stocked up on as many as I could get my hands on and have been slowly going through my stash since. Awww I'm so sad! He got recycled at Yellowstone, a fitting tribute.

We really slowed down and took our time getting ready, waiting for some of this moisture to hopefully lift and things to warm up a bit. Ice on the road was not a way we wanted to end our trip! Although the fog didn't lift much, we got up into the low 40s. Thankfully delayed us by only about an hour.

The ZR7 is a notoriously hard starter in the cold. Here's Karla with her coffee nursing her bike to life. Posted this on the Kawasaki forum and all the ZR7 owners replied, "been there done that!!"

Packed up and ready; Karla rode over to hand in our keys because... Well because I'm slow! That one piece suit of hers really makes her super speedy getting ready. I was jealous of it all weekend. I'm not sure you can beat a one piece for warmth, comfort and ease of use. I was piling on layers and plugging in heated gear and she would just close the vents. It also has spectacular armor EVERYWHERE, quite a bit more than usual. Yep. Nice suit.

I took a moment to photograph our cabin. What a great decision this was!

Neither of us mind having a community restroom/shower setup. However having a sink in the room was fantastic, a nice little luxury.

She's ready!

Checked out at the Lodge and ready to go

In and out of VERY dense fog on the 2 lane road heading south towards the Yellowstone border. Like put on your 4 ways dense. It was beautiful, but man was I glad it wasn't like that all weekend! No trouble at all, not many folks out and everyone was being careful and courteous. I didn't have any cameras out, not the GoPro nor the one I keep around my neck. Far too wet out to try and keep a lens clear. Kinda a bummer cause just almost to the edge of Yellowstone a car way ahead of us hits the brakes and slows way down. He pulled away just as we were coming up. This is a very small 2 lane road with NO shoulder. Traveling the same direction as us in the other lane was, get this, a MASSIVE GREY WOLF!! Just trotting along making time. He looked like he was floating, barely any effort to move 10-15mph. I rode alongside him, me in my lane, him in his. He was calm, unruffled, focused. Ocassionally he'd look over at me, zero concern in his eyes. He didn't even break stride! I gave myself 10 seconds beside him then moved forward so Karla could do the same. At this point some cars were stacking up behind us, but no one was honking or being impatient. I think we were all in a bit of shock to see such a majestic animal so close!! Karla rode up alongside him for another 8 seconds or so, then he came within maybe 5 feet of her and passed behind her bike.

Words are not enough to describe this experience. We couldn't believe we had been so lucky. What an animal. It was definitely the second best moment of the weekend, hands down!!

Now I didn't have the cameras out. Which was fine, I probably wouldn't have bothered anyway. I didn't want to stop watching him, except to keep from riding off the road. I pulled some internet pictures to show you what he looked like. He was close enough to judge height, conservatively I'd say 3.5 feet at the shoulder. He was massive!! I always figured wolves were the size of large dogs, like a big malamute. This guy was taller, more muscular, longer legged, leaner. Every inch was power. Wow. Anyways, he kinda looked like:

This one is the right shape, but too scrawny. The one we saw was very nicely filled out, not skinny at all. Oh and more brown, less white.

He looked both of us in the eye more than once. I had a hard time remembering to breathe. I'll never forget!

(His ears were larger than this one)

Down through the Tetons, which unfortunately were almost completely socked in. We got a glimpse here and there. No worries, we got to see them on our California trip a few years ago and I was sure we'd be back through.

We were dodging rain all day, as usual. About 40 miles out from our last gas stop we knew we couldn't dodge the storm in front of us! Time for an underpass break.

Many, many hours after we left Yellowstone we got off I-70 at our exit. HUNGRY!! I had no idea what was in the fridge, so we made a stop.... Karla's excited.

Ha. Too funny.

I love our adventures. So many unbeatable memories. I can't wait for what's next, but I'm enjoying remembering what we've done so far.

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