Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Snow! In July!!

This post has absolutely nothing to do with home renovation or a DIY project. It has everything to do with my recent trip to West Yellowstone, MT, and Yellowstone National Park. As most of you know, who read this blog, I have waited 17 long years to get to Montana. If you saw my Facebook post about it then you know the story, if not, here it is. When I was 10, I saw the movie Legends of the Fall starring the gorgeous Brad Pitt. Looking back, I may have been a bit young for the film, but none-the-less I saw it because I was obsessed with Mr. Pitt. Little did I know this one film would change my life forever. I don't think I even payed attention to the actors, Mr. Pitt included. I was in awe of the beautiful setting of the film, some back country ranch in Montana. The moment the film started, I was hypnotized by the beautiful ranch and the huge mountains that made up the landscape. From that moment I wanted to go to that place and just stare. Well, my dad promised he would get me there one day, and he kept true to that promise this year. 
View from the airport

July 2, 2012, was the beginning of our adventure. We got up before the sun, dragged Joe out of bed to drive us to the airport and made our way to Bozeman airport in Montana. From there, we drove two hours south to West Yellowstone. Bozeman is the closest air port to the park. Yup, two hours is as close as you can get to Yellowstone National Park by flying :). As soon as we stepped off the plane, we were greeted by snow-capped mountains, 0% humidity, and an 80 degree sunny day. Can I just say 80 degrees and no humidity feels amazing! Seriously, when the wind blew there was a slight chill in the air. A chill in the air in July, a.ma.zing!! As most of you know, I am hot-blooded and obsessed with cold weather and most of all snow. The more the better I say! It had been 5 minuets and already this was the best trip I had ever taken. I am pretty sure I was drooling over the landscape the whole two hour drive. I was pretty much speechless. There really are no words, or pictures, or paintings that can capture the beauty of this place. I will try my best, but I know I won't do it justice. 

First Sighting
Since our flight got in so early we headed to the lodge we were staying at, dropped our bags and headed straight to the park. West Yellowstone is one of the four main entrances to the park and our cabin was located about five minuets from the west entrance. Now something I found out about the park is if you see a group of cars pulled over there is sure to be some kind of awesome creature near by. We had driven about 3 miles in and we came across this herd of buffalo taking in the day. There were calves frolicking in in the sun, cows taking dirt baths, and bulls standing sentinel watching over their harem. Little did I know that the buffalo practically own the place and you see a herd of them about every 30 feet, but it was still an amazing sight to take in.  

One of many beautiful hot springs
After we saw the buffalo, we just meandered through the park and made our way to Old Faithful Village. Now I will admit that I really knew nothing of Yellowstone. I am famous for entering into things without knowing what I'm getting in to. I like the head first approach. It's always more fun and the mess, if there happens to be one, can always get cleaned up later, right? Anyways, I had no idea that Yellowstone had little villages where you can camp, or stay at a lodge, or shop, or even get gas! Well it does, and they are all about 40 miles apart! The park is huge I tell ya! Huge! On the way to Old Faithful, we stopped at several hot springs and geothermal grounds. That really was the most amazing part of the park. Again knowing nothing, I was shocked to find out that the whole park is on top of a volcano that is due to erupt any day know. It could be tomorrow or it could be 1,000 years from now. No one knows when the next eruption will be. Exciting, huh?? The ground is so fragile around the springs that you can't walk on it because you could fall though and get burned to death by the scalding water waiting underneath for ya. Super thrilling :). Please don't let this small detail scare you. The 2,000 pound buffalo frequently walk on the grounds to warm themselves near the springs and the ground holds.   

Two bull elk cooling off
We spent about five or six hours in the park on the first day, and I was nowhere near ready to leave when we did. We were up bright and early the next day, ate a quick breakfast and headed straight to the park. There were no plans for this trip. It was all day by day. So on day two we drove around the park again stopping for animal sightings or at makers on the road for the cool features that the park holds. It was truly awesome. I loved not having a plan. There really is no need for one at Yellowstone. I recommend to just drive through the park and stop where you feel the need. The big sighting on day two was two humongous bull elk cooling themselves in a river. The antlers were the biggest I have ever seen. I could not believe that they can keep their heads held high. They are such graceful creatures. I was just memorized watching them in the river. After the sighting we started our journey again stopping at Canyon Village for a look around and then off for some more driving through the park searching for moose :). I'm sad to say that the one and only moose I saw was a calf hiding in the tall grass waiting for mom. 
What a good baby :)

Day three had us taking a trip to Idaho. I mean we were only two hours from Idaho Falls, and 10 minutes from the border so why not?  Let me just say, two hours in Montana, Yellowstone, and most of Idaho is nothing out here. That's a daily commute for some people out west, and the time flies by looking at all the scenery that is your backdrop for the trip. Also the average speed limit is 70mph and that's on a two lane road. In Idaho Falls, we made the obligatory trip to the local fire house. Those of you who know my pops know that fire houses are a must stop at any new place. Those of you who don't, well, you know now :). They couldn't have been a nicer bunch of guys. We got the grand tour of the station and lots of details on how they run things out west. After our tour, we set out to the local celebration for the 4th. There is nothing like a small town Fourth of July festival :). With a town of approximately 50,000 people, Idaho Falls is Idaho's third largest city. We enjoyed roasted corn on the cob, on a stick. We took in the awesome falls, and then made our way back to West Yellowstone in time for the fireworks :). The falls generate 50% of the energy provided to the entire city. What a green city :). Sorry for the side note. I'm all about a greener tomorrow :). 

The Grand Tetons. On our way through Idaho
Idaho Falls

We didn't make it to the Grand Tetons, but we did get to take in their beauty on our drive through Idaho. Grand Teton National Park is about two hours south of West Yellowstone. We wanted to go, but just ran our of time. They will defintily be a stop on my next trip :).

Idaho Falls

View from atop Mt. Washburn
Day four saw us back at the park with an evening horseback ride and rodeo. The day started with 45 degree temps and rain. This did not stop us from hiking up to the top of Mount Washburn. Luckily the rain decided to taper off, and by the time we got to the top it stayed away for most of the day. All in total it was a 6.4 mile hike out and back. The geniuses that created the trails provided a few switchbacks to ease the incline and make the hike more enjoyable. Let me just say that even though the air is full of oxygen it is sooo thin. I was huffing and puffing within the first 30 yards! I felt so out of shape. Eventually, my body evened out and it was a very easy hike. Hiking up to the top you go up 1,500ft in elevation! I swear you feel the pull of gravity that high up. I felt very accomplished when we reached the top. Sure it was only 3.2 miles to the summit, but I was walking up hill and 1,500ft into the air :). Even though the skies were gray, the view the entire trip was spectacular. There were beautiful rock formations, wild flowers along the way, and the tallest trees I had ever seen. The view from 10,243ft was even more spectacular. You could see for miles even on the gray day we were having. We had a light lunch, marveled at the view and made our way back down. Climbing Mount Washburn had to honestly be the coolest thing I have done in my life. It was the experience of a lifetime. Once at the bottom we made tracks back toward the cabin to get ready for some horseback riding. 

We made it to the top!

Me and Miss Joy
I am no where near an experienced rider. I have ridden about 5 times in my whole life and I'm not afraid to admit that I do have a small fear of riding horses. With that said, horseback riding is something I really love! I so wish that was I was more experienced and that I had pestered my parents more when I was a child to let me take riding lessons. This had to be the best ride I had ever done. It was so great that I didn't even take more than a couple pictures. I was so enraptured in nature I forgot all about pictures. We took off from Diamond P Ranch. They were the nicest people I had ever met, and our guide, Dirk, was hilarious and comforting to all these novice riders. From the ranch we headed up to the mountains. The air was so fresh you could smell the pine. You know those first couple days when you get your fresh cut Christmas tree home? Well multiply that smell by 1,000 and you'll almost be close to the smell of the forest and mountain air. It was so relaxing. I just wanted to bottle the smell up and take it home. Now with all that beauty and relaxation there was bound to be a mishap somewhere. When we returned to the ranch we were all dismounting and true to the gracefulness that is me I fell completely on my ass. In my defense, my horse, Joy, was a bit taller than I gauged and my big hiking shoes got caught in the stirrup. It was definitely a good laugh for all, me included, the only thing I wish is that it was caught on camera so I could share that with everyone :). 

View during lunch in Silver Gate, MT
Day five was spent traveling east bound. To get from West Yellowstone to the east entrance was about 75 miles. Seriously the park is huge. On this journey we made a wrong turn and got to see some of the southern part of the park. I forgot to mention earlier that there was a massive forest fire in 1988 destroying 36% of the park. The brunt of the fire took over much of the western side of the park and the damage is still very much visible. On the eastern and southern sides there is less damage and the trees are still tall and strong. It's almost like driving though a different place. The west side is gorgeous don't get me wrong, but to see the parts that are untouched by fire is really breath taking. By the way the wrong turn took us 40 miles out of our way :). A fortunate mishap I say :). We finally made it to the east entrance. We drove though two very small Montana towns, Silver Gate and Cooke City. We stopped for lunch in Silver Gate at the Log Cabin Cafe. This was the quietest town I had ever been to. All you could hear was the breeze blowing through the trees. There were no honking horns, or people bustling by on cell phones. As a matter of fact there was no cell service in Silver Gate. The view was one in a million. Huge snow-capped mountains painted the backdrop. I am pretty sure I will move there one day. 

Log Cabin Cafe, Silver Gate, MT

Rainbow Trout spawning

On our way back through the park we stopped for an impromptu hike to Trout Lake. This was a 1.2 mile hike out and back. This sounded like a piece of cake compared to Mount Washburn. How wrong were we. The whole hike was a steep hill to the lake. I kid you not I almost quit this hike halfway through and it was only .6 miles! The outcome was well worth the journey. Once we got to Trout Lake the view was another breath taking one and we got to see some awesome critters. Trout Lake gets its name honestly, Cut-Throat and Rainbow Trout call this lake home. This time of year is their spawning season. It was so cool witnessing this feat in their lives. What a struggle it is for these fish to swim upstream against rapid running water. A bonus is that the water is crystal clear everywhere that you can make out every scale on their bodies. My dad and I spent a good 20 minutes just walking up the river watching the trout push their way up. It was fantastic. River Otter also call Trout Lake home. We were lucky enough to see a momma otter and her two pups playing on the shores. She was keen enough to stay tucked behind the tall grass as a barrier. Although pictures were hard to get, watching the three of them play and splash around was a very neat experience.
River Otter Mamma 

This was just a taste of all my dad and I did on our trip. We had the honor of seeing a Grizzly, we saw a herd of Pronghorn grazing, and even a Coyote running through a meadow. I've attached a few more pictures from the 540 I took. I should also add that the only camera I had on me was my iPhone 4s. Yup, I did not take a professional camera with me. Although I wish the pictures were better, the iPhone held its own throughout the trip :). I am already planning my next trip out there. This time Joe will be joining me and whoever would like to come is more than welcome.



Part of Artists' Paint Pots- boiling mud

Steady Geyser

Hanging out at part of the Yellowstone River

View from Artists' Paint Pots-Geothermal ground at its best

cute marmot

Soda Butte

Old Faithful

Steady Geyser at sunset

Moose Creek Cabins-Where we called home for 5 glorious days :)

Driving through the east part of the park

The sulfur from the hot springs, geysers, and steam vents destroys everything it touches

East Side of the park

Sapphire Pool
Standing on a snow mound on Mount Washburn