Onward to the world's largest volcano (Yellowstone NP)

Mystic of Holyhead (successor to Lynn Rival)
Rachel and Paul Chandler
Sun 6 Oct 2019 21:21
From Ritzville it took us another two days to get to Yellowstone National Park, mostly along the Interstate 90. 

As far as the border with Idaho the drive was uneventful, apart from being stopped for speeding and a memorable brunch at Frank's diner in Spokane.  Thankfully the policeman decided it wasn't worth the hassle of taking Paul in.  Frank's diner was one of those occasions where we felt compelled to "eat like the locals" and usually put it down to experience.  This time it was their famous "hot cakes", which would be great if you enjoy scotch pancakes.

Frank's Diner.  The hot cakes were of course a side, to the more familiar bacon, eggs and country potatoes

Once across the Idaho border the scenery improves, the road winding it's way through the Coeur D'Alene National Forest in the Rocky Mountain foothills.  After a short stop at the silver-mining town of Wallace, we crossed into Montana.  We passed the turn off for Glacier National Park which we'd hoped to visit, but the park roads were already closed for the winter.

Montana, here we come!

We stopped overnight at Missoula and continued east until at last we turned off the I80 and south towards the north entrance of Yellowstone Park.  Although the freeways are generally fast with a speed limit of 80mph in Montana - which means most traffic was doing 90, including trucks that were supposed to stick to 70 - we were happy to be off the main highway for a while and looking forward to saying hi to Yogi Bear.

The Yellowstone River, running north out of the park and through Gardiner

After 3 nights "on the road" we were happy to settle down to a 4-night stay in the somewhat touristy frontier town of Gardiner, in a cottage close to the Yellowstone River.

The first snowfall had just ocurred and we were disappointed to find out that the Beartooth Highway - a famous scenic drive to the north west - was closed for the winter.  All other roads were open but for how long?  On our first day in Yellowstone we checked at the Visitors Center before driving toward the east side of the Park and the trailhead for Mount Washburn.  It was cold but clear so we donned our winter layers, took note of the warnings of grizzly bears and set off.

A well-trodden path, but always climbing and someone's stolen most of the oxygen from the air!

It was a memorable walk, with hikers of all ages and abilities exchanging greetings and enjoying the challenge.  We found it hard-going in the snow but once we could see the top - a fire lookout station - there was no stopping.  Our reward was superb panoramic views of the whole Park.  And - with the help of excellent explanatory notices - it's here you get a real sense of how extraordinary and special the Yellowstone area is.

View ESE over  the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone

Time for a geology lesson at the top

Looking south - that's our route back down, along the ridge

At the top.

Coming down was probably harder with more slipping and slushiness underfoot.  Our feet were tired and aching by the time we got back to the car.  Returning by a different route through the middle of the Park we got caught up in road works on the west side.  By the time we got back to our cottage we were exhausted. 

Sticks more helpful on the way down; we daren't delay as the shade will extend soon, making it very icy

The next day was cold and overcast.  We took the road to the Lamar Valley in the north east of the Park which is kept open all year round.  It's the best area for viewing wildlife, especially large herds of  bison and maybe wolves roaming this wide open and mostly treeless area.  Driving along in the wintry weather we realised that our chances of seeing something rare, like a bear or wolf, were low unless we were prepared to spend long hours in the cold looking through a telescope.  Apart from the impressive herds of bison we did see pronghorns, an antelope-like creature related to the giraffe that is the fastest mammal in the West and can outrun a cheetah (but can't jump so have problems with fences put up by ranchers). 

Pronghorn in the shelter of the Lamar valley

Bison also enjoying the relative warmth of the valley, which is at just below 2000m altitude (elevation in American)