Last time we spoke we were in the midst of our death march drive to Glacier National Park. A dangerous cocktail of ambition, confidence, and grandeur sent us on an 18 hour drive that put us at our campsite around at 1:30am. The thing was, we didn’t have a reservation… At least not until the next evening and we were all far too spent to attempt finding a legitimate place to sleep. So we reclined our seats as much as possible for a couple hours of shuteye. When the thunder storm rolled in around three, sleeping in the van seemed like a brilliant move.
We had agreed to wake up before daybreak to move camp in the hopes of avoiding any park service people, and at 5:30 that morning, the alarms went off. At that point, whatever citation the national park service was prepared to levy us was preferable to waking up. Thankfully though, Will was persistent and I jiggled the power seat adjuster to return to the upright position and started the car; in search of a better place to sleep until our campsite was ready at noon for check in. The dawn’s twilight was beginning to reveal the park we had blindly navigated the night before and the thunderstorm that had passed us could be seen in the distance. The scene rallied me to life and we changed course, now in search of a proper place to take in the sunrise. We found one and we’re able to capture some beautiful pictures of St. Mary lake at daybreak.
After the sunrise passed, which had stirred us all to life, the biological and physiological reality of our drive set back in. We stopped at a picnic area to get a couple more hours of sleep which, despite the less than ideal sleeping conditions, came quickly. A tapping on the driver window by a park ranger was our next alarm. “Y’all sleep in your car last night,” she inquired – apparently this is against the rules. “Yes, ma’am,” I responded, barely conscious. I went on to explain our situation. As per usual, my theory on the rationality of people in the face of the simple truth held true and we escaped without a citation. She did take down my information and Homer’s license plate number (sorry, ma) and logged us into what I suspect is the National Park Service’s double secret probation system.
When we finally got situated at our campsite, we took advantage of the free shuttle service provided by the park and visited Virginia Falls – a must do hike if you visit the area. Yet another storm was rolling in and, on the recommendation of a young summer ranger, we visited the local watering hole, Kip’s, for karaoke night and some libations while weathering the storm.
The next day we slept in – despite hurricane winds still roaring throughout the morning. When we finally awoke, we headed south to Two Medicine – another valley in the park – in hopes of avoiding the remnants of the storm. This was not effective. We began our hike to Scenic Point in the hail, until the hail gave way to gale force winds. As we climbed, the groups of bewildered looking hikers making the descent told tales about the even fiercer winds that lied ahead – but we were undeterred. However, after winds forced us to sit down for fear of being blown down the mountainside, we too turned back. Like the hikers before us, we assumed the same stoic paternalism as we warned fellow hikers about what lied ahead.
We returned to our campsite and prepared our signature chicken, quinoa, kidney beans, and corn dinner (dubbed Millennial gruel) and went to bed – wind steadily thrashing our tent. Despite a restless sleep, we awoke in the morning and started the journey south to Yellowstone.
The rural countryside of western Montana during July is something to behold. Endless fields of green grass dance in the wind and out of the horizon shoot the Rockies. John Deere tractors, red barns, and bales of hay give you that nostalgia for the good old America that your grandpa is always reminiscing about. We wound through miles of these back roads before finally making it to Helena – the capital. Helena in 1888 was home to about 50 millionaires, giving it the most millionaires per capita in the world – primarily because of gold excavated from Last Chance Gulch. Much of this abundance of wealth helped spur a modern and fashionable architecture presence in the city – including the beautiful Cathedral of St. Helena. We stopped for a quick visit here before making our way to Bozeman, MT.
In Bozeman, we stopped again for supplies and also tackled some of our technical challenges – replacing cigarette lighter fuses (used to power the slightly absurd number of gadgets we brought) and to fix the adapter for our propane stove (for Millennial gruel). Both were accomplished and, having proven our American ingenuity, we set off for Yellowstone – slightly behind schedule. When we arrived it was dark, again, but at least we had a campsite and we set up shop and had a quick dinner.
We awoke the next morning and decided to get the old tourist trap out of the way. We prepared some oatmeal and coffee on our newly rejuvenated propane stove and then set out for Old Faithful. True to her namesake, Old Faithful did her business shortly after we arrived and then we puttered around the walkways that tour some of the lesser known geysers and other geothermal attractions. It’s really quite neat if you get the chance to go and worth the crowds. The Old Faithful Inn – a four or five story Lincoln log looking place – is also worth checking out. After that, we decided we’d had enough driving around for one week and we went to the lake shore to read and relax.
The next morning, we awoke at 4:45am – determined to catch the sunrise. We found a nice spot by the lake and did our best National Geographic photographer impersonations before continuing our drive north to the Mud Volcano attraction. Being up so early in a National Park has it’s perks. The animals are most active around this time and we saw elk and bison right outside our car window. We even saw a bear – albeit in the distance – completing our trifecta of Yellowstone large game sightings (Moose are around too but generally roam farther north).
The dawn lighting gives the natural wonder of a place like Yellowstone an even more powerful mystique. We turned north off the lake towards Yellowstone Canyon. Yellowstone Canyon was formed by a river that runs out of Yellowstone Lake and due to geothermal activity, this river can be warmer than the cool morning air – which means it steams. This alone is worth getting up to see. We braved the sulfur odor and cooked some breakfast along this steaming river before continuing to Mud Volcano.
Mud Volcano is yet another example of volcanic activity shaping the landscape. The attraction is quick and worth seeing, especially early before the crowds, but doesn’t offer too much different from the Old Faithful area. We continued north towards the canyon. The road eventually veers from the river and opens into beautiful rolling green hills where the bison roam en masse. We were lucky to get to take this drive in the morning before the long lines of rubber-necking bison watchers make navigating the roadway maddening.
We took an afternoon hike down into the Yellowstone canyon and were back for lunch – it’s amazing how much you can accomplish when you wake up at the crack of dawn. We returned to our site for some R&R and got ready for another early morning and our next destination – Sturgis or bust!