Wild West 2015: Bozeman, MT

We only had about 18 hours in Bozeman, but that was plenty of time to enjoy several spots downtown.

Bozeman Brewing – Open until 8p, we got in with about 40 minutes to spare. I sampled the Berliner Weisse and Leandra tried the Plum Street Porter. The draft room itself was fun, with lots of bench seating, and a popcorn machine in the back too.

Drink until MT!

extra points for clever logo

Montana Ale Works – It was a Tuesday night so we didn’t think we would need a reservation for 8pm… we were wrong, they were  packed! We put our names on the list with their promise to text us when the table was ready and walked around downtown for a half hour. Thankfully, their large collection of beer on drafts and tasty food made the wait mostly worth it. Eric ordered the Smoke Stack, a burger with bacon, cheddar, cowboy onions and bbq sauce; Leandra ordered the Black & Blue, a cajun-blackened burger with bacon, spinach and blue cheese. Beers we tried: Carter’s Oktoberfest, Red Lodge Busted Barrel Nitro Scotch Ale, Jack’s 90 Nitro Scottish Ale.

boz-6

Nova Cafe – After several days of waking at sunrise we decided to sleep in, and woke ready for a large Western breakfast. Nova Cafe didn’t disappoint. I went simple with scrambled eggs, which came with a large pile of potatoes, and Leandra ordered the Lox Bagel Sammy (bagel, lox, Nova-made Kalamata olive sundried tomato tapenade, cream cheese and local microgreens) and a large latte.

Nova Cafe (yummy breakfast)

After breakfast we walked down Main St. exploring the sights and shops of downtown. The rotating horse was especially fun.

dancing steed  truth.

downtown Bozeman

Where we stayed

My Place Bozeman – Our room was spacious, as extended-stay hotels tend to be, with a kitchenette, a large easy chair and a queen sized bed. The hotel was convenient to the highway, but a little loud even with good windows. Also, our room was also rather bright with several blue LEDs from various appliances. For the price, I think it was a good option for us on this trip.

myhouse

Wild West 2015: Yellowstone (day 4)

After a morning spent in Grand Teton, we began our drive north to Bozeman, through Yellowstone. We had already seen much of the scenery from the South Entrance to Canyon Village on previous days but we were treated to a coyote sighting on this trip through Hayden Valley! It narrowly missed being hit by a minivan likely because everyone was gawking at herds of bison.

red fox

The light was a bit different, so we stopped to get another shot of Upper Falls too.

Lower Falls

As we passed out of the caldera, the scenery changed and we enjoyed some views along the river and winding highway.

Yellowstone River panorama

clouds for miles

The north side of the park was dramatic, with a hillier, drier terrain.

Yellowstone NP

Tower Falls  river valley

Our first main stop was at Tower Falls and we were not alone at this overlook. Strangely, the bathrooms were closed for the season and there were quite a few disappointed visitors. The waterfall can be reached by a short uphill hike which also affords beautiful views of the valley in both directions.

Our next stop was the nearby Calcite Spring Overlook (which was quite busy unlike online advice). The rock formations were very unusual but the canyon views were similar to those at the Tower Falls overlook.

towering rocks

In hopes of seeing more wildlife, we took a seven-mile detour on Blacktail Plateau Drive. It was dusty and scrubby and full of potholes so I really had to concentrate on the road. We didn’t see anything different, just a few grouses. So, while there were nice views for the first half, we didn’t think it was worth the time.

gravel road on Blacktail Plateau Drive

It was time for another waterfall, so we parked at a small turnout and started the hike to Wraith Falls. We spotted a sitting buffalo near the trail but he didn’t seem interested in us, so we hustled by without incident. Gulp.

Wraith Falls  Undine Falls
Wraith Falls; Undine Falls

Undine Falls had better flow which was surprising given water levels on this side of park.

Our last stop in Yellowstone was Mammoth Springs. What a disappointment! Most of the springs aren’t active and the formations look like an abandoned construction site. By far our least favorite part of the park. Eric still managed to get some nice photos but I wouldn’t go out of my way to return to this area of the park.

Mammoth Hot SpringsMammoth Hot SpringsMammoth Hot Springs

Wild West 2015: Grand Teton Park & Jackson, Wyoming

Monday

We spent roughly 24 hours in Grand Teton, and we were really amazed at the sights in the park.  First of all, the mountains are amazingly picturesque and can be seen from just about anywhere in the park.

our first view -- Jackson Lake Overlook  the Tetons
views from the north and south of the park

Grand Teton range

Additionally, the park has quite a few aspens, and they were in full fall color (unlike Yellowstone which was mostly pine trees).

the Tetons

We drove south along Teton Park road, which started with lots of sagebrush and views around every corner.

the Tetons

Jenny Lake wasn’t far away, and the water looked beautiful.

Jenny Lake

On the southern end of the park we stopped at the Chapel of the Transfiguration, which has one of the best views possible.

Chapel of the Transfiguration

Since we were close, we headed into the town of Jackson for a late lunch at Snake River Brewing – I tried La Serpent Cerise and the bison burger, which together made a perfect late lunch. Leandra went for the the zonker stout and the sausage sampler – elk was her fave, followed by the pork. The brewery had lots of cool features, including personalized tiles in and around the bathroom, as well as lots of stickers outside. Also nice was the access to wifi, as our phones hadn’t connected to anything in several days.

stickers @ Snake River Brewery

On the way back to the park we were surprised that rangers weren’t checking for park passes at the entrance. We made several stops along the Snake River, including Schwabachers Landing.

reflections near Schwarbacher Road

Our room for the night was a one-room cabin with DBL bed in Colter Bay Village – an actual log cabin that was quite basic, but given the beauty around us we didn’t really mind.

Colter Bay Village cabins

our little one-room cabin

Tuesday

I knew the mountains would look lovely at sunrise, so we got an early start, and were not disappointed by our choice. As a bonus we saw several herds of elk on the plain, and heard plenty of bugling too.

Mt Moran

Oxbow bend had brilliant color in the sunrise light.

Eric @ Oxbow Bend

With the sun now up we drove up Signal mountain, which rises several hundred feet above the river plain. Along the way we saw several animals including deer, elk, grouse and a chipmunk harvesting seeds.

deer!

Hungry after a few hours awake, we stopped in to the Mural Room @ Jackson Lake Lodge – Breakfast with a view! We scooted in at 9:15a, 15 minutes before they stop serving, and were quite glad to partake in their breakfast buffet. The waffles were especially memorable, made to order with a fixings bar that had nuts, chocolate, fruit and other toppings ready to go. Paired with the beautiful view and free wifi this became our most memorable meal of the trip.

Jackson Lake Lodge views

We really enjoyed our time in Grand Teton park, and we wished we had more time there. However, we needed to be in Bozeman for the evening, so after breakfast we started our trip north to explore the eastern and northern parts of Yellowstone.

Wild West 2015: Yellowstone (day 3)

We were up with the sunrise and decided to walk the Geyser Hill loop before breakfast. Only a few other people were out, so it was quiet and peaceful, with quite a bit of steam and colored pools. We definitely had to be aware of the parts of the trail that were still in the shade as they were icy!

Upper Geyser Basin landscapehot springs

We had already seen Old Faithful go off twice the day before, so after our walk we checked out the Old Faithful Inn – amazing wood work with big beams, larger then we expected.

Old Faithful Lodge interior

After breakfast we packed up the car, filled up with gas, checked out, and made our way to the Black Sand geothermal area that we had skipped the day before. This stop had several deep blue springs, and a bridge over the Firehole River that runs right through it.

Black Sand Basin

From here we headed south, stopping at the small Isa Lake straddling the continental divide, meaning water flows to both Gulf of Mexico and Pacific Ocean – how cool is that?

Continental Divide!

Lewis Falls was on our way and from the amount of people present, it is a popular stopping point. You can view the falls from the bridge but I hiked down to the river bed for this shot.

Lewis Falls

We were in the middle of discussing all the wildlife we had seen so far when a bald eagle nearly collided with our car! Thankfully, it pulled up at the last second but not before we got a good look at him and Leandra nearly had a panic attack.

Just before leaving Yellowstone Park, we stopped for the short hike to Moose Falls.  It was challenging to shoot at midday, but I did the best I could with a tripod and my hat as a sun shield.

Moose Falls

Next up – Grand Teton National Park!

Wild West 2015: Yellowstone (Day 2)

We decided to make the famous Old Faithful geyser our first stop for the morning, so we walked over from our cabin ~20 minutes beforehand to find a nice viewing angle. Thankfully we had enough layers as morning temperatures were in the 30s! A few minutes after predicted, but within the window published by the park service, Old Faithful erupted into the sky. Quite the sight to behold.

Old Faithful

After breakfast we loaded our gear into the car and began our all-day lower Yellowstone circuit. Our first stop was Biscuit Spring.

Biscuit BasinGrand Prismatic Spring

Next was Midway Geyser Basin, featuring steaming waterfalls and the famous Prismatic spring (too steamy to see well unfortunately). Even so there were plenty of colors at the other pools, and extra points for bison near the path.

Grand Prismatic Spring

a herd of bison

waterfall near Grand Prismatic Spring  waterfall Grand Prismatic Spring

We continued down the road that paralleled the Firehole River, when eagle-eyed Leandra spotted an osprey in tree. She pulled a NASCAR turnaround and got us back to the spot just in time for us to watch the osprey catching a trout in the river, then flying off.

osprey with trout

After passing Gibbon Falls, we parked and took a short hike on the Artist Paintpot nature trail for more geothermal activity, interesting colors, and our personal favorite, the gurgling mud pits with lots of sound effects (bloop, bloop… bloop). As a bonus we enjoyed a nice view of the mountains from the top of the loop trail.

Gibbon Falls  Artist Paintpot hike
Gibbon Falls and views from the top of the Artist Paintpot hike

bubbling mud @ Artist Paintpots
hot mud!

Our next destination was Virginia Cascades, accessed by the one-way Norris Canyon Road. Along the way a herd of bison caused a 25 minute traffic jam – they were really close! And taller than our car…

traffic jam

you shall not pass!

thanks goodness there was a windshield between us  bison calf

Unfortunately, Virginia Cascades lacked a pullout for photos due to some construction, so we continued on our way to the Yellowstone River canyon. We started along the north rim of canyon where we especially enjoyed the Red Rock overlook – lots of stairs, but a nice view over the canyon and fewer people than the other viewpoints. Simply beautiful.

staircase back to the parking lot  Upper Falls

We also stopped along the South rim, where we enjoyed the view from Artist Point, but felt it was too crowded by buses.

Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone  Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone

Driving south we stopped at Mud Volcano, where we had our first, and only, grizzly sighting of the trip.

The Hayden Valley, an expansive grassland, was beautiful to drive through with far ranging views and quite a few birds, including a sighting of a bald eagle.

IMG_7063

Our final stop for the day was the West Thumb geyser area. It was quite interesting and different from the Old Faithful area, with lots of colors and a beautiful view of hot springs running into Yellowstone Lake. Even better, it was not too crowded in the late afternoon.

ysgt-57West Thumb Geyser Basin

Wild West 2015: Yellowstone (Day 1)

We arrived at the West Yellowstone park entrance around 4:30pm where entry was quick and painless with our airport-purchased pass. It doesn’t take long for Yellowstone to welcome you – 20 minutes from the west gate we saw our first bison!

Hello Mr. Buffalo
Little did we know how many we would see on this trip!

A little further down the road we saw a herd of elk too.

master of his domain

elk butt!

A small one-way road led us to a panoramic view of Firehole Falls and river bend.

Firehole River   Firehole Falls

bend in Firehole River

And not long after we saw our first hot springs and geysers too at Fountain Paint Pot…

Lower Geyser Basin

Lower Geyser Basin  Lower Geyser Basin

We were losing light quickly at this point, so after a quick shot of the sunset from Biscuit Basin, we headed to the lodge to settle in for the evening.

sunset from Biscuit Basin

Wild West 2015: Introduction

yellowstone_mapYellowstone National Park has been a destination of interest to us for years, and during the snowstorms of winter 2015 we had some time to research and book a trip using Delta miles. We decided on September, as the crowds should be less than in the summer, but still have reasonably nice weather. And that is when we learned our first lesson about visiting Yellowstone – book early! We couldn’t book the same room for our entire time in the park but this was fortuitous as it led us to spend a night in Grand Teton, which we liked even better than Yellowstone.

Our tickets had us flying in and out of Bozeman, Montana, which had better connections for us than the flights to and from Jackson, Wyoming. On arrival we bought a one-week park pass for both parks in the luggage area of the airport. Next, we got the keys to our rental car, then drove down the road to a conveniently placed Albertsons to pick up snacks: granola, trail(nut) mix, chips and local beer. Feeling prepared we continued down the Gallatin Road to Big Sky, where we stopped for beer at Lone Peak Brewery.

Since we weren’t familiar with their beer we split a taster in order to try the Steep and Deep Winter Ale, Hippy Highway Oatmeal Stout, Oktoberfest, Bourbon Barrel Stout and Dark Shine of the Moon. Our server even brought us an extra sample on the house so we could try ALL the dark beers. Beer was reasonably priced by the pint, and we split a bison quesadilla with a side of guacamole.

Lone Peak Brewery

From there we continued on to West Yellowstone, enjoying the early Fall views along the river.

Grayling Creek

Three days later our drive out of the park was even more dramatic as we followed the Yellowstone River out the north end of the park into a valley with steep sided hills and farms clustered along the river. Unfortunately, the north entrance (with the dramatic stone arch) was completely under construction and it was a bit of a detour through town to get out of the park.

Yellowstone lodging & dining

Though we booked >6 months out for a less popular time of year, there still weren’t that many room choices available. After mapping out where we wanted to be we decided to stay two nights in an Old Faithful Snow Lodge Western Cabin. The room had positives and negatives:

Nice:

  • We could park right outside our door
  • Decent amount of space
  • Keurig machine and Newman’s coffee

Odd:

  • Room lights were super dim for 5-10 minutes, needed a long time to warm up
  • no tissues (empty when we arrived, never refilled)
  • coffee creamer was labeled “whitener” (at least they are honest)
  • Intensely ugly bedspreads!

snowlodge

Not glamorous, or even fancy, but the room kept us warm and was reasonably comfortable for sleeping.

Old Faithful is at least an hour+ drive to the nearest town, so we ate breakfast at the lodges. The first morning we went to the Obsidian Dining Room: Reasonable breakfast eggs for me with rye toast, while Leandra went for the one egg and salmon benedict. Both were OK, neither bad nor memorable.

Given that experience, on our second morning we tried the Old Faithful Inn Dining Room. Pro tip – go a few minutes before Old Faithful is scheduled to erupt and you may have the place to yourself! We both ordered the breakfast buffet and the food quality was a bit higher than the Obsidian Dining Room and with orange juice and coffee included, it was only a few dollars more. Given the better ambiance it was well worth it.

Old Faithful Lodge interior
interior of the amazing Old Faithful Lodge

breakfast @ Old Failthful Lodge