Monday, September 7 - Labor Day
Start: Colter Bay campground
End: Baker Hole campground (USFS), W. Yellowstone, MT
Not quite as cold this AM, but chilly. I got up to walk down to the lake and within 25 yds of our campsite I spotted a Black Bear. He was down below the ridge of our campsite. By the time I got my camera activated he took off into the woods. I had backed off to give him space, but still I wanted to go down to the lake. I waited a few minutes then 'clapped' my way down the bank to the lakeside. A couple was unloading a pickup and had several coolers stacked up, plus many bags of food they were taking to a nearby set of tables. I warned them that a bear was close by and to stay close to their food. On the way back up to my campsite I spoke to a few other campers who were outside and cooking breakfast. I also mentioned it to the campground staff as we left.
Cold morning and a restaurant nearby is how we like to start our day. The Colter Ranch House
is in Colter Bay Village and offers a buffet and menu option for breakfast. We splurged and
enjoyed their buffet, lots of choices including fresh fruit and some high quality pastries. The $15 buffet includes your hot beverage and juice. The menu included lower priced items, between $5 and $10.
We headed north into Yellowstone National Park. After stopping at Grant Village visitor center and picking up the Junior Ranger booklet plus tokens and passport stamps, we decided to head for Madison and get a campsite for the next several days. When we arrived by noon it was full. It is well placed in the middle of the park and always popular, even after the Labor Day crowd had left. The backup plan was to head out to West Yellowstone and stay at a USFS campground we had stayed at before. Good choice - 25 degrees predicted for tonight and there was an electric site still available. With the Golden Age pass it was only $14. We have a small electric heater that we use in the evening while reading and turn it on in the morning before we get dressed. It also allows for easier cooking with a microwave and electric skillet. We finally saw Bison along the road between Old Faithful and Madison. They were a bit off the road and everyone either had pulled off the roadway or kept driving at a reasonable rate so there was not the usual animal traffic jam.
We spent the rest of the day exploring west to Hegben Lake and the Earthquake Lake. A visitor center, plus numerous roadside interpretative signs tell about the earthquake in 1959 which claimed 28 lives and created a new lake. The US Forest Service has done a great job of explaining this event. Along the way we found several letterboxes, including one which took us off the main highway into the back country.
Hegben Geologic Area
Driving from Grand Teton NP through Yellowstone NP and west along US 20 we crossed the
Continental Divide numerous times. Besides being a long distance hiking trail this feature
determines where water will end up; in the Atlantic Ocean or the Pacific Ocean.
Back at camp we fixed a tasty dinner and enjoyed some late afternoon sunshine. Afterwards we
walked along the Madison River, which runs along the backside of the campground, and
watched many small fry of trout jumping.
Madison River at Baker Hole campground
John D. Rockefeller Jr. - Memorial Parkway
Yellowstone National Park
-Snake River Ranger Station
-Grant Visitor Center
Yellowstone NP - West Yellowstone Visitor Center
Last edited by Pmount; 10-17-2015 at 08:27 AM.
Tuesday, September 8
Start & End: Baker Hole Campground, West Yellowstone, WY
Yep, it was cold! Woke up to frost inside the windows and up on the inside roof of the van. Ran the heater for about 1/2 hour before getting dressed. Made hot beverages, then went into town and had breakfast at McDonalds; busy, but not very, just lots of campers!
Back into the park to do the southern loop; Madison, Old Faithful, West Thumb, Fishing Bridge, Canyon and Norris Geyser! Best day ever in Yellowstone! Being here the day after Labor Day has paid off, much less traffic. Could drive for miles without seeing other cars and the animal sightings only caused traffic to slow, not stop. Parking was available at every stop we made. At Old Faithful I waited for the next eruption, about a half hour. I needed to time it for a Junior Ranger activity. By doing that I learned that the length of the eruption helps to predict the next eruption. Because this one lasted over 3 1/2 min, almost 4 minutes, the next eruption would be 90 minutes away. Later in the day I learned that my prediction, based on timing of the one I saw, matched the park's prediction, to the minute!
We spent quite a bit of time at Fishing Bridge. I attended a Ranger program which was
excellent. It was only 20 minutes long, but the ranger did an excellent job. The title was
"Experiencing Wildlife". He told us they are including this at the beginning of every park
presentation due to the increase of serious injuries because people are not respecting the
power of the animals. At the end he offered to have us wear the bear skin, and pose with us.
Princess Running Bear at Fishing Bridge Visitor Center
Before leaving the area we enjoyed an ice cream treat. Not sure the brand, but we both felt the flavors were some of the best we've had. I had 'Chocolate Runs Through It' and my husband had 'Peanut Butter Chip', worth every calorie! Up at the Canyon area we enjoyed the exhibits in the visitor center, then took the North Rim Drive to view the Upper Waterfall, always beautiful.
Canyon Upper Waterfall
Back across the middle of the park to Norris Geyser Fields, then back to West Yellowstone. We saw several elk herds on the way back. Enjoyed a beer and dinner at the Slippery Otter Pub before going back to camp -- 29 degrees predicted for tonight's low.
Slippery Otter Pub
Yellowstone National Park
- Old Faithful Visitor Center
- West Thumb
- Fishing Bridge VC
- Canyon Visitor Center
- Norris Geyser Basin
Last edited by Pmount; 10-18-2015 at 02:56 PM.
That ice cream would be Wilcoxson's, from Livingston MT.
Thanks for letting me know the ice cream brand, we'll be looking for it next Summer when we are back in Montana!
Wednesday, September 9
Start: Baker Hole Campground, West Yellowstone, MT
End: Mammoth Hot Springs Campground (NPS), Yellowstone NP, Mammoth, WY
Not quite as cold last night, didn't have any frost inside the windows or on the roof van. We packed up and went into West Yellowstone for scrumptious pastries and hot beverages at The Book Peddler, plus a letterbox! A bit of a bunch-up at the entrance gate to Yellowstone this AM, at about 9:30. After a couple of animal slow-downs for elk and bison the crowd thinned out nicely.
Our first stop was at the Norris Ranger Museum, great displays about the early days of park
rangers. The volunteer on staff was a 37 year NPS employee and superintendent at several
large parks. We shared stories about the previous government shut-downs from his perspective
and ours. Some discussion about a potential one this Fall (at this post - no threat until Dec. 11).
His take - he's retired now!
While back at the canyon we went out on the South Rim Drive and enjoyed another view of the
Upper Falls. From there we made our way to Tower, hoping for a campsite, but it was Full by
noon. The previous 2 days it had not filled until 3 PM. Hmmmm, it appears all of the people
without school-age children are out and about, and waited until after Labor Day to travel.
North Entrance Arch at Gardner
We arrived at Mammoth by 1 PM and got a site, with only 2 left! After setting up we went into
Gardner to visit the Yellowstone Association store for a passport stamp and to get a few
groceries. Back to Mammoth I went to the visitor center to have my Junior Ranger booklet
reviewed. As a Senior, or over 28 years old, I had to do ALL 28 pages. It took me two days to
complete everything. I enjoyed the activities and, as usual, learned a lot.
Junior - Senior Ranger
Once done there I walked over to the Post Office to have my postcards mailed and hand-cancelled
with the Yellowstone National Park cancellation. The bigger parks have their own post
offices and will hand cancel if you take your mail to the window. I send postcards with the
passport cancellations to our 2 grand-children and 5 great nieces & nephews. They keep them
in albums we have provided. Some of the parents have put up a US map and have them follow
We then drove out to Wraith Falls and I hiked up to see them. The best part of the day was the
warmer temperatures! Daytime temps were in the 70s! Back at camp we enjoyed birdwatching
and watching a bull elk graze along the bottom of the campground. The sunset was pretty.
Yellowstone National Park
- Norris Ranger Museum
- North Entrance
- Mammoth Visitor Center
Thursday, September 10
Start: Mammoth Hot Springs Campground, Yellowstone NP
End: Horseshoe Bend Campground (NPS), Bighorn Canyon NRA, Lovell, WY
Woke up late, enjoyed breakfast in camp and headed east from Mammoth Hot Springs by 10
AM. A female elk wandered through the campground before we left. We stopped at the Tower
Ranger Station for some bonus stamps. Along the way we mainly saw Bison and Pronghorn.
Again the traffic was tolerable. For the most part people pulled off the road or moved through an
animal sighting at an appropriate rate. Slough Creek and Pebble Creek campgrounds were both
Full by the time we drove by. We stopped for lunch in Cooke City at a small restaurant we had
eaten at a few years ago, not as good this time.
Today we drove the Beartooth Highway for the first time, it was spectacular. It was a perfect day,
clear and temperate. Hopefully some of the pictures will do it justice. We had hoped to see
some Mountain Goats, but all we saw was a Yellow-bellied Marmot run back into the rocks.
We stopped in Red Lodge at the Forest Service Office, they have some nice displays, lots of
free travel information and a couple of bonus stamps. We also found Montana's Whispering
Giant sculpture by Peter Toth in town next to the Carnegie Library. A lot of street construction
made it difficult to get a good picture, plus the sun was directly behind the face, so the picture
isn't the best.
Whispering Giant # 32 - Red Lodge, MT
Art Gallery - Old Train Depot
We wanted to head back into Wyoming to visit Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area, so we
headed east on MT 308, then north on MT 72, and then south on US 310, back into Wyoming.
We drove past the visitor center in Lovell, which had closed at 4:30 and went out to Horseshoe
Bend, along the reservoir within the NRA. The camp had electric and non-electric sites, with the
Golden Age Pass it was $10 for an electric site. The wind was quite strong so we used the
microwave to cook some fresh corn on the cob and had sandwiches. The light and the colors
surrounding the area were very pretty.
Horseshoe Bend at Bighorn Canyon NRA
Tower Falls - Yellowstone (pictorial - small & large)
Custer Gallatin NF - date -Beartooth RD MT
Beartooth Hwy - date - Red Lodge, MT
Friday, September 11
Start: Horseshoe Bend Campground, Bighorn Canyon NRA, Lovell, WY
End: Afterbay Campground (NPS), Bighorn Canyon NRA, Ft. Smith, MT
Quiet night, the wind finally died down. We headed into Lovell to stop at the visitor center for the Bighorn Canyon NRA. By looking at the map we realized that the Big Horn River was a north flowing river. They claimed 200 species of birds could be seen here in the Spring and Summer, we only saw 3 species. The weather has been perfect the past few days, still feeling summer.
We headed south on WY 310, eventually picking up US 20/16 east to Worland. There we found our 20th Peter Toth's Whispering Giant sculpture. We are not sure we'll get back to all 50 states or we'll get to the towns that have the sculptures.
Worland, WY- Whispering Giant #36 - Indian Brave
From Worland we headed east on US 16 along the Ten Sleep Canyon and Cloud Peak Skyway Scenic Byway up to Powder River Pass at 9,666 ft. This was a beautiful drive, not quite as rugged as the Beartooth Highway, but well worth the drive. Along the way the BLM has erected geologic signs. There were several letterboxes along the route at beautiful locations.
US 16 - Cloud Peak Skyway Scenic Byway Geologic Signs
Powder River Pass
In Buffalo we picked up I-90 and stopped in Sheridan for a couple of letterboxes and supplies.
From there we continued back into Montana and stopped at Little Bighorn Battlefield NM. At 5 PM it was quite busy and lots of out of state license plates. While walking around the National Cemetery we saw quite a few Guinea Hens who are guarding, or using the shade of, tombstones of our veterans.
Little Bighorn Battlefield NM -Guinea Hens
Across the interstate is a closed motel/RV park that will remain in our family road trip history
forever! As my 42 year old son said in a message today, "that night is burned into my brain!". In 1987 we arrived after dark and took a camp space. We set up our tent, our son slept in our van. Just as we settled in, getting used to the trucks along the very close interstate, a train came along. We honestly thought it was coming through the middle of our tent, we didn't see the tracks when we set up the tent; we were VERY close and scared the @!*# out of us. The trains ran all night. OK, so we thought we knew what we were up against, until we started registering drum beats - the Crow Nation was having their annual Pow Wow at the nearby fairgrounds. The next morning we heard fellow campers proudly stating they had 21 drums last night. Our familyhistory includes the real reason Custer lost - he was kept up all night, the night before the battle! We didn't make it very far that day, we drove across the Big Horn Mountains on 14A and found a cool, shady camp site early in the day for naps!
Back to current time, we drove out to Ft. Smith and camped along the Big Horn River at
Afterbay campground, the north end of the Bighorn Canyon NRA. For $5 we got a decent space
up above the larger RV rigs. Luckily their water was still on, so we filled up all of our containers. It was cool and quiet, great sleeping.
Bighorn Canyon NRA - Lovell, WY
Little Bighorn Battlefield NM - Crow Agency, MT
Black-Tailed Prairie Dog
Greater Sage Grouse
Great Horned Owl - sitting on a fence post, mid-day
Guinea Hen - domestic
Last edited by Pmount; 10-21-2015 at 06:20 PM.
Saturday, September 12
Start: Afterbay Campground, Bighorn Canyon NRA, Ft. Smith, MT
End: Medora Campground (private), Medora, ND
Another quiet and cool night, great for sleeping. After breakfast in camp, we made our way north
to Hardin where we stopped at the Big Horn County Museum, right off I-90 at exit 497. This is
one of the best pioneer museums we have ever visited. The exhibits inside and outside are
great. The pioneer buildings and grounds are well-maintained. Most were open to walk inside
for additional exhibits. It is free and well worth a visit.
Big Horn County Museum, Hardin, MT
We cut north on MT 47 and picked up I-94 heading east towards North Dakota. It was getting
warmer, mid-80s and nothing but Big Sky as we drove across Montana, following the broad
Yellowstone River. We stopped in Miles City for gas and a snack. At McDonalds they were
advertising $11/hr for day shifts. The lobby and drive-through were packed at 1:30, looks like
we are in gas/oil country.
At the North Dakota border on I-94 we saw the best gas prices in quite a while, $2.49, so we
filled up. We reached Medora late afternoon and got a campsite at Medora Campground. Turns
out it was their last night open for the season, all sites were $20. We still got a non-electric site
so we would have a bit more space and have no one on our outer edge. While I took a much
appreciated shower, my husband went into town to the Theodore Roosevelt National Park visitor center and scoped out dinner possibilities. We decided to eat at the Little Missouri Saloon and Restaurant. The YELP reviews weren't stellar, but we thoroughly enjoyed the atmosphere and our meal. The bartender, who also acted as waiter for the saloon area, was amazing. He kept the bar going and was out taking orders and delivering food in the saloon area. Before we left town we got a set of smashed pennies and were lucky enough to see a Washington, DC plate! Only Rhode Island left to complete seeing the license plates of all 50 states, plus DC!
Little Missouri Saloon & Restaurant
Even though the day had been in the upper 80s the evening cooled off quickly and nicely,
another good night for sleeping.
Budget at end of week 3 was still holding at $500/week.
Theodore Roosevelt National Park
- South Unit
- Elkhorn Ranch
Black-Tailed Prairie Dog
Last edited by Pmount; 10-22-2015 at 09:04 PM.