Idaho and Wyoming – National Parks Road Trip – Day 10 – Yellowstone to Jackson Hole

Another early start found us at the South Rim of the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone. As usual the early start allowed us to avoid the crowds for some excellent views, along with the other dedicated morning photographers. Why buy a postcard when you can take the picture yourself.

Since we missed it the day before we returned to the Norris Geyser Basin and began our hike along the boardwalk through the back basin. Steamboat Geyser fumed so high and huge that it could be seen from most of the back basin. This geyser erupted last year and it was evident of the violent destruction that was left for us to see. As we toured we found many other geysers vending significant steam. The hot water from the earth combined with the cold air of 35 degrees created a steamy low-lying atmosphere.

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The loud gurgling sounds of the geyser from Puff N Stuff was a visitor’s favorite as well as ours. It is caused by steaming vents in the earth among the dead trees in the white sulfuric basin gave an eerie feeling and a creepy setting. The tour continued on the other side of the basin where there were more geysers in the Porcelain Basin. This basin is more open and the area was crowded with tourists, along with a number of geologists and park rangers hiking back to where we had been carrying technical equipment for analysis.

Warning sign inform tourists not to toss debris into the geysers (morons of the world unite) as exemplified in the Minute Geyser located in Porcelain Basin, which was damaged by tourists and now no longer erupts as it once did nearly every minute. Over the years, tourists clogged the geyser with twigs and stones that they tossed into the geyser.

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The Artist Paint Pots turned out to be our last stop in Yellowstone. The loop surrounding the paint pots was disappointing due to the lack of variety of colors that decorate the pools, primarily due to the overcast day. You could however see a variety of pools, or paint pots, nestled in a hillside with mountains in the distance.

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Our plan was to go to Midway Geyser Basin while heading out the south exit toward Grand Teton’s, but instead we got stuck in a huge traffic jam. Sunday was much busier with tourists than the previous days. After an extended period of no movement I gave up, turned around and exited the West Entrance.

As we proceeded on the West Drive we came across a magnificent elk wading in the river. Everywhere in Yellowstone you see wildlife you see traffic jams, including our last as we were exiting, this one caused by a bison  walking in the middle of the road and refusing to move aside. As motorists inched around the bison, it came to be directly in front of us so we shot a photo from our windshield of the bison’s butt moving very slowly almost as if it meant to do this just to say he owns the place. Eventually the bison moved off the road allowing us to leave the park.

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We ended up in West Yellowstone, Montana at noon and stopped for lunch at McDonald’s. From here we drove south across the Continental Divide again and west into Idaho. The view of large mountains was spectacular and we passed many, potato fields which I had not seen before. We followed Idaho State Route 32, also known as the Grand Teton Scenic Highway.

We crossed Teton Pass back into Wyoming to reach our hotel in Jackson Hole. Since there was still plenty of daylight we drove into Elk Range outside of Jackson Hole to spot wildlife but were unlucky on that adventure so we went back to explore the town. The center of Jackson is Antler Park, named for the unusual arches made of elk antlers at the four entrances into the park.

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Surrounding the park are a number of art galleries. Life-size bronze sculptures of Ben Franklin, Mark Twain, George Washington, and elk stood outside a gallery and seemed to be a popular spot for tourists to pose with the statues. The town is well known as a resort for its outdoor adventures but our stop was to take in a short visit and overnight on our way to Salt Lake City.

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We chose to have dinner at the Gun Barrel Steak and Game House fitting for the western aura of Jackson Hole. The restaurant use to be a western museum and taxidermy shop and it shows from the many animals mounted on the walls. The restaurant also had a full-sized stuffed bison named Wyatt, and a 1800’s buffalo coat owned by Hank Williams, Jr. We were game to try the game on the menu so we had a sampler of elk steak, bison prime rib, and venison bratwurst, as well as elk medallions; I had mixed results with my dinner. Game meat is not fatty and needs to be eaten slightly rare so half of the medallions were overcooked and tough. The waitress brought two more medallions and only one of them was tender but I had enough to eat and it was a good experience to have eaten in a nice restaurant. The evening was cool, but the day had been long so we called it a night.

Theodore Roosevelt National Park – National Parks Road Trip – Day 5

Heading further west from Bismarck we stopped in New Salem, North Dakota, we saw Sue, the world’s largest Holstein cow. The larger-than-life statue stands atop a rise overlooking fields of grain. We stood under Sue shivering in our shorts as a cold temperature of 42 degrees hit while we watched the sun appear above the horizon.

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Another hour west and we arrived at the visitor center for the Teddy Roosevelt National Park where Margi, the park ranger, was very helpful providing maps and directions. From the visitor center we hiked the Painted Canyon Trail to see the start of the Badlands. This trail, while only a little more than a mile long has numerous drops and rises as you traverse the badlands. While there was plenty of evidence of wildlife in the area, we saw none on this hike, however the interesting erosion patterns of the landscape made the hike worthwhile.

This visitor center also serves as a rest area on I-94, but to see the bulk of the park you must exit the interstate at Medora, and enter the South Unit. After purchasing our annual passes for the National Parks, we headed into the main portion for a day of driving the auto tour loop, interspersed with various hikes.

Our first hike in the South Unit on the Ridgeline Trail and Buck Hill Trail provided another overview of the badlands, as well as a herd of wild horses. Later on the drive we stopped to observe an entire colony of prairie dogs, followed by a group of bison crossing within five feet of our car. By the time we had finished the drive we also came across turkey, coyote, hawks, and eagles.

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Returning to Medora for lunch at the Little Medora Restaurant, named after the nearby river. We tried our first elk burgers; which were excellent though not much different than beef burgers. We spent an hour hanging around the town, as well as a brief visit to an upscale golf course called Bully Pulpit. As with many places in arid areas the lush green golf course seems out of place.

Returning to the park we hiked Wind Canyon Trail and the Boicort Trail. Later we spent more time watching the comical movements of the prairie dogs popping out of their holes in the ground and scurrying about. The prairie dogs seemed curious of the bystanders who stopped to watch them. We again saw bison throughout the day and more wild horses.

Returning back to town we had a dinner of pizza at the Badland Pizza and Saloon where servers from many foreign countries waited tables. After dinner we went back to the Teddy Roosevelt National Park to try to see the elk feeding in the pastures. We did not see elk but raced back to Wind Canyon to watch the sunset over the river. As we climbed the trail to the peak  the sky of deep pinks and peach colors that streaked across the sky and reflected in the river was breathtaking. We spent the entire day taking photos of the colorful sky from dusk to nearly dark.

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On the way back to town we parked to look at stars. As we patiently waited the starts began to appear. The void of electric lights and the distance from town gave us a black background for a picture of stars unlike any we have ever seen. The abundance of stars filled the sky and it was sad to think that we have not had a chance to see these stars before. It was so worth it to stay after dark to check out the stars, seemingly having the park to ourselves.

We returned to the Rough Rider Inn satisfied with a great day in the Badlands.