2011’s RV trip was a slightly less ambitious than average one, as we had taken a longer trip last summer, wanted to be in BC for the Little League National Championship, and were planning a big trip to Africa in early 2012. So we were away a total of only about 10 days. This trip continued towards our semi-serious objective of hitting all 50 states before Ben graduates (we’re up to about 29).
We started by driving to Vernon, spending the weekend there, then down through Osoyoos to Idaho. Our first major event was houseboating for two nights on Lake Pend’Oreille, in Northern Idaho roughly East of Spokane. It took about 8 hours driving to get there.
We went for our first houseboating trip last year in Georgia, and I LOVE it. It is extremely expensive though, and this particular trip was nowhere near as successful in that Northern Idaho is not really warm enough for houseboating plus the weather was not great. We had one awesome night out but the second day and night we spent tied up to the dock in the marina, which sucks but maybe not as much as being stuck out in big waves.
After houseboating we headed for Missoula, which IIRC is the largest city in Montana. None of Montana’s cities are very big, it is the 4th largest in area but 6th least populated state. It has a history of mining and lots of abandoned mines (aka. toxic waste sites), now it is mostly farming. And tourism!
Missoula was mostly a stop on our way to Yellowstone, but we did spend a half-day or so there. The temperature and mosquito situation in Montana were both nearly ideal, and not a ton of people.
I really like it when we can bike ride in a ‘foreign city’ and it was super nice here. I do want to rant for a second about the Internet though. Once again, the Internet led us to a bike rental shop that didn’t actually rent bikes, in direct contravention to what their web site said. I guess the lesson is you should always phone ahead. But my oh my, as amazing as the Internet is, it is SO unreliable!!!
On our way from Missoula to Yellowstone we stayed over in Bozeman. There was a computer museum there which I wanted to visit but once AGAIN, the Internet led us astray and we gave up. Instead on the way we stopped at Big Sky, which is one of many ski resorts in the area. The mountains in Western Montana are nowhere NEAR as numerous or impressive as ours, but they get a ton of snow since the “lowest parts” of Montana are much higher than BC to begin with.
Anyway, we went up a chairlift at Big Sky whence the weather came up and we got stuck up there for 2 hours waiting for a truck to take us back. A little known (?) fact about me is that I have a thing for control rooms and panels so I spent some of this time studying the chairlift controls which were kinda amazingly complicated for such a simple seeming machine!
Driving out of Big Sky we had to stop while a bunch of cowboys got their horses across the highway…
5 days or so into the trip we got to Yellowstone. It is almost entirely in Wyoming but two of its three major approaches and supporting tourist towns are in Montana. We went to West Yellowstone, which is another ultra-touristy town. They do tourism 12 months a year there, with snowmobling in winter. Yellowstone is the oldest national park and on this trip I learned that the world has America to thank for the very idea of national parks. Thanks, America!
Yellowstone has three claims to fame: it’s extremely beautiful, including Yellowstone Lake; the ‘grand canyon of Yellowstone’; and its geysers. Apparently the whole thing lies on top of an enormous volcano and if you dig down a (relatively) little way you’d be inside a giant chamber of magma. There are 3-4 major geyser / hot pool areas in the park that you are able to walk around. It is all very unusual and kind of neat.
In case you didn’t know, there are also doomsayers who predict that one day the volcano at Yellowstone will erupt and kill not only everyone in the park but most people on the NA continent, either directly or by screwing up the sunlight for so long that agriculture will stop working. Luckily this didn’t happen to us 😉
I hummed and hawwed about this but eventually decided to shell out $300 for a day-long guided bus tour of the park, to avoid driving and parking hassles. This was not a bad idea but I would probably not do it again since the parking really wasn’t so bad. The guide was a nice guy and good but it was a lot of $$ for that. Anyway we were on the bus for most of the day with stops at geysers, Old Faithful, the lake, and the ‘grand canyon’.
Oops these pictures are a little out of order. Our longest stay was around 2 hours at Old Faithful where there is a lodge and a nice 45 minute walk around some smaller geyser activity, plus the iconic Old Faithful itself. It erupts (IIRC) very 72 minutes plus or minus 10 minutes (eg. as faithful as it is, its timing is not predicable any closer than within 10 minutes).
There are dozens of little pools around the park like this, they are mostly named and have fences around them. If you touch the water that is reachable by that point it is usually only warm. There is also steam coming out of the ground all over the place. But I should clarify, from the road these features (as they call them) are concentrated in a few ‘basins’, it’s not like you drive 50 miles and see them constantly.
WordPress screwed up these captions, GRRR…
The road thru Yellowstone is figure-8 shaped and while people talk about doing it in one day, it’s tough and we did it in two (one guided, one not). Basically from South to North. The Northern entrance is called ‘Mammoth’ and there is a really nice hotel there (as well as by the lake, which is in the South area). I suspect these hotels are very costly though — stayed at the KOA outside the park.
Oh boy when I was talking about Yellowstone claims to fame I forgot the wildlife. There are bison all over as well as elk, and a major preoccupation of our bus trip thru the park was getting pictures of them all. They lie around outside the hotels and so forth, like this.
I think this picture looks as if Ben is standing in front of another picture but no, it’s real! This is the so-called ‘Grand Canyon of Yellowstone’, on the East side of the park, the Yellowstone river cuts a fairly impressive canyon. Though nothing like the ‘real GC’. We walked around this for a while on our bus trip.
That is almost it for Yellowstone! I really love American National Parks and I wish I could visit all of them. I’m glad I finally got to this one!