Sunday, September 11, 2011

Montana to Colorado via Yellowstone National Park and Jackson, WY

Boiling Cauldrons
Yellowstone National Park was not high on our list since we had visited this park many years ago with the children after we took John and Audrey on a canoe trip down the White Cliff section of the Missouri River. But, we wanted to visit Grand Teton National Park, which is just a few miles south of Yellowstone. Yellowstone has changed a lot since then. The big fire of 1988 burned over three quarter of a million acres. It is remarkable how different the landscape looks. But, the forest is resilient and clearly on the rebound. The other reason for taking this route was to visit a friend and former colleague who lives in Jackson, Wyoming which is just outside the south entrance to Grand Teton National Park.
Boiling River

So, we put on more miles than we usually do in order to make it into Yellowstone. We enjoyed the scenic drive from Missoula on US 191, entering the park at West Yellowstone then camping for the night at the Madison Campground. The next day, we drove to Colter Bay Campground in Grand Teton National Park. We stopped  at many of the highlights along the route, of course Old Faithful was one of them. While we waited for Old Faithful, we had the service station next to the visitor's center rotate the tires on the truck. I didn't ask how much it would cost, but I had neglected to do it at the last oil change so I was willing to accept the punishment of high prices in such a place. I was very happy when I returned for the truck to find the price no more than I would have paid at my dealer.
Old Faithful

Colter Bay on Lake Jackson is another beautiful place in our National Parks. Despite a number of lodges and a large marina in the village, this place still has a natural and rustic appearance. Like other campgrounds in highly popular areas, we didn't have much privacy or scenic campsite. I suppose that is the price to pay to stay in a place so scenic that millions of others want to experience it each year also.

The person at the entry gate suggested we stay at Colter Bay because it had a number of hiking trails that began right in the village. The next day we hiked to Hermitage Point, a 10 mile hike with only about 950 of elevation rise along its length. We were rewarded with stunning views of the Tetons as well as varied woodland and open field flora. In some places we found shallow ponds filled with lily pads, and verdant grassy areas at open depressions in the forest. Further on toward the point we crossed high desert land studded with dry grasses and sage brush. We were a little tired upon our return. Despite the easy terrain, we were feeling the effects of hiking at 7,000 feet above sea level.
The Tetons

On the way back, we stopped at the general store across from the restaurant, enticed by the 30% off all frozen goods sign. We scored chicken, swordfish and ground turkey at almost give away prices. The chicken was the first onto the grill. Simple rub of olive oil, rosemary, salt and pepper then cooked over the coals of an open fire with potatoes aux gratin avec onion. A simple camp dinner.

With the Tin Wheeler in tow, we left the Colter Bay campground and headed south bound for Jackson. Like so many other scenic national park roads, this one took time to transit owing to the numerous beautiful vistas revealed at the many pullouts along the way. However, this road demanded that we leave Mary Joan in a trailer parking lot in order to drive on the narrow winding road to the top of Signal Mountain from which we had magnificent views of the Tetons and the vast valley below. At the top of the mountain were information plaques describing the geology and history of this place. One plaque included a brief history of the first exploration of these mountains by the photographer William Henry Jackson with photos taken in 1878. I was happy to see that the amount of snow on the mountains today was not unlike what Jackson found 130 years earlier and that the smoke of forest fires was also present back then.
Jackson Lake

On September 8th we arrived in Jackson, Wyoming. We stayed at the Virginian Resort RV campground, the most expensive of all the parks we have stayed at. Fortunately we had made reservations because the campground was completely filled. Jackson is the quintessential tourist town owing to its beautiful scenery and the numerous recreational opportunities available for nine months of the year. However, there is a wonderful brewery there, the Snake River Brewery. Great beer and very good food.

Mary Joan Decal at the brewery

We met my colleague, Kathrin, and her spouse, Joe at the Rendezvous Bistro. Coincidentally, this was their 10th wedding anniversary. We were not able to attend the wedding, but felt privileged to share this major milestone in their relationship. In talking with them prior to our arrival, we asked if they could suggest a hike nearby that we could do. They made arrangements to pick us up at our campsite the next morning for a day hike. I should have remembered the criticism leveled at Kathrin by other friends when she had planned hikes for us in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. We were quickly reminded of that criticism as soon as we were on the trail. The Hanging Canyon trail is not on any map. It rises steeply from the western shore of Jenny Lake at about 6,800' to Ramshield Lake at 9,500'. We all enjoyed the serenity and beauty of this lake as well as our accomplishment in reaching this wonderful place. We really appreciate Joe and Kathrin sharing this wonderful place with us.
Hanging Canyon
Ramshear Lake
Replenishing our water
Yes, that's snow in the background!

The smiles hide the pain. Thanks Joe and Kathrin

With Winfield Kansas still three days away, we left early the next morning. Our plan was to continue south on US 191, but construction and lack of signs in the construction area caused us to take US 26 to US 89 just south of Jackson. These roads went due south along the Wyoming/Utah border rather than southeast toward Denver. We didn't discover our mistake until it was too late to turn around. However, this error added just 100 miles to our day's trip. But, it lived up to its designation, by our road atlas, as the most scenic route in Wyoming. We won't disagree. We thoroughly enjoyed the ride. This reinforced the overriding theme of our journey, despite how much it sounds like a cliche, it's not about the destination it's about the journey. 

Joe had advised us to check the weather before taking I-80. This stretch of highway is notorious for violent winds known to set semi-tractor trailers on there sides. Fortunately, we experienced calm winds as we repeatedly climbed to 7,000 feet above sea level, descended a thousand feet and then rose again. All along the way, we were continually amazed at the changes in the geography and geology.  

While Sarah does a lot of driving, she has been most responsible for finding a place for us to spend the night. On this day she chose a National Forest just east of Laramie, Wyoming as a possibility. The Medicine Bow National Forest has a campground, Tie Campground, just east of the city close to I-80. We arrived to find the campground closed but, with a large and mostly empty parking lot. The view was beautiful so we decided to boondock here for the night. We couldn't have picked a better place. 
How High Can We Drive - 8,578 feet
Boondock view
Tie Campground parking lot, Medicine Bow National Forest
The next morning joggers, hikers and bikers showed up

Then next morning, I realized that there was a shorter way to Denver than the interstate. With a short backtrack of only ten miles, we took SR 287 south to Fort Collins. It was the hypotenuse of the right triangle we would have had to take. Best of all, it was newly paved and extremely beautiful. We saw mule deer early in the morning and pronghorns all the way. 

The previous evening, we re-assessed our time schedule as well as looking at the Colorado Rockies Baseball schedule and decided we should stop in Denver to catch the baseball game at the city's very attractive ball park. We bought tickets for the 1:10PM game and found an RV park just 10 miles from the ball park. We arrived at Prospect RV Park in Wheat Ridge at 11:00 AM and left just an hour later for the game.
Opening ceremony at Coors Field on 9/11

Coors Field is a wonderfully designed ball park. Home plate is at the south end of the park so all seats have a view to the north and those right of the plate can see the majestic mountains. The opening ceremonies were in keeping with the anniversary of the World Trade Center terrorist attack. After the singing of the national anthem the 120th squadron of the Colorado National Guard flew four F16s over in a tribute to the remembrance occurring on this day.

Watching the Rockies win under clear blue skies and warm sunshine playing America's game seemed to be a fitting way to spend this, otherwise, sorrowful day. 

Now, we are off to Kansas.

Stay tuned.


1 comment:

  1. Missed you last year, by only two days. We were back in Watson Lake a couple of days before you passed through. Looking forward to following your adventures this year and having some of our own...Tim, Leana, Krickette (the hamburgerler) Ladybug, Doodle and Beetle


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