Yellowstone (again) & the Grand Tetons (June 13 – 20, 2017)

On June 14th, we headed out at 10 am to visit Yellowstone National Park. We discovered the traffic through the West entrance was much heavier than we had experienced at the East gate the previous week. We attempted to visit those parts of the park that we had not yet seen this year. We drove along the Madison River and watched the many fly fisherman standing in the river. We first stopped at the Lower Geyser Basin to see the Fountain Paint Pots. Next we stopped at Midway Geyser Basin where we sat in a long line of cars waiting for a parking spot. We walked along the boardwalk to see numerous geysers and hot springs. We saw Grand Prismatic Spring, the largest of Yellowstone’s hot springs at 200’ across and a temperature of 140 degrees.

We next headed to Old Faithful Village. We arrived about 1 pm and circled the entire huge parking area three times without finding any parking space. Frustrated, we left and went to the nearby Black Sand Basin where we walked the boardwalk and saw some more geysers and hot springs.

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Rainbow Pool at Black Sand Basin

We then returned to Old Faithful Village and managed to snag a parking spot. The next eruption of Old Faithful was estimated to be at 2:42 pm, plus or minus 10 minutes, so we had time to have lunch at the cafeteria overlooking Old Faithful. When Old Faithful finally erupted at about 2:50, we strolled the paths along the Upper Geyser Basin. We saw many geysers that, when they erupt, are more spectacular than Old Faithful but erupt less frequently and with less predictability. For example, Giant Geyser is one of the largest in the world and has eruptions that soar to 200-250 feet but last erupted in September 2015. On our return to our car, we walked through Old Faithful Lodge and spotted a wild ferret.

That evening we celebrated Phil’s birthday at the Slippery Otter Pub & Eatery in West Yellowstone. Upon returning home, we had blueberry pie for birthday dessert. Since we didn’t have a number ‘3’ candle, Jan had to improvise and use the ‘6’ and ‘2’ candles and add a single candle to make it 63.

On Thursday, June 15th, we got up early and headed to the Grand Teton National Park. To reach the Grand Tetons we had to take the same route through Yellowstone as the previous day, passing by Old Faithful. Fortunately, the traffic entering the West entrance at 8:30 am was much lighter and we made good time through Yellowstone. The weather was a little warmer than on Wednesday but still somewhat cloudy and windy.

The scenery in the Grand Tetons was spectacular. We made several stops along the way to enjoy waterfalls and mountain views.

We drove to Jenny Lake where we had intended to take a boat shuttle across the lake and hike to Inspiration Point. Unfortunately we learned that the boat doesn’t begin shuttles until later in June and the trail to Inspiration Point was currently closed. As an alternative, we hiked about 2 miles to see Moose Ponds. We heard that there had been a female moose spotted in the area but we did not see her. It started raining as we hiked back to our car but we managed to get back without getting too wet.

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Jenny Lake

On the drive home we took the 5-mile drive to the Signal Mountain Summit where there were two overlooks with great views of Jackson Lake and the valley. We also stopped to take pictures at the Continental Divide. The entire day involved 230 miles of driving but the scenery made the drive worthwhile. We had originally hoped to spend several days camped closer to the Grand Tetons but our side-trip to Billings for repairs and the shortage of nearby campsites for rigs our size eliminated that plan.

After rain kept us close to home on Friday, we headed out on Saturday to explore some new territory. Instead of returning to the national parks, we decided to explore nearby Idaho. We had not realized that our campground was only about a mile from the Idaho state line. We drove about 30 miles to the start of the Mesa Falls Scenic Byway.

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Our first stop was at Upper Mesa Falls. We explored the Visitor Center where we got to feel the furs of numerous wild animals. Then we took a short walk on the boardwalk down to the Upper Mesa Falls where we could stand on several overlooks to watch as the river plunged 114 feet over volcanic ash that dates back 1.3 million years.

Next we drove a short distance to the Lower Mesa Falls where the water plunges 65 feet. We found an overgrown trail and hiked about a mile each way back to Upper Mesa Falls. At times we weren’t even sure we were on a real trail but then we saw a sign that showed that the trail had only opened for the season on June 1st. Since we were mindful of the many “Be Bear Aware” signs in the area, we talked and sang loudly as we walked. Since we only have one canister of bear spray, it was important to stay close together.

After the falls, we drove the rest of the scenic byway. There were some great views of the western side of the Grand Tetons and beautiful vistas across huge potato fields. When we reached the town of Ashton, ID, we headed north and stopped at Harriman State Park. There were numerous hiking trails and we chose to hike 2.7 miles along the Henry Fork’s River. Once again, the hiking trails did not appear to have been heavily used recently, although there was clear evidence that horses had been on the trail so we had to watch where we walked.

On Father’s Day, June 18th, we made a return trip to Yellowstone to hit a few of the stops we had missed previously. Although the heavier traffic required patience to find parking spots on occasion, we managed to visit Beryl Springs, Artists Paintpots and Gibbon Falls before stopping for a picnic lunch.

After lunch, we headed to Biscuit Basin where we walked the boardwalk past the geysers to reach the trailhead for the Mystic Falls Trail. The trail to reach the falls was relatively easy and the view of the falls was beautiful. For the return, we decided to take the more challenging route which consisted of many rather steep switchbacks up the side of a mountain. Making this climb at high elevation required lots of rest stops to catch our breath. We were ultimately rewarded with a great view from the summit of the entire Upper Geyser Basin which contains 25% of all the geysers in the world. We were happy when the return to Biscuit Basin was mostly downhill and much easier than the climb to the summit. In total, the hike was 4 miles, our longest at Yellowstone.

On June 19th we made a return visit to Harriman State Park of Idaho. Harriman State Park was once known as “the Railroad Ranch.” For more than 70 years the ranch was a working cattle ranch and summer retreat for the families of several eastern industrialists, most notably that of E. H. Harriman, founder of modern-day Union Pacific Railroad; Soloman R. Guggenheim, head of American Smelting and Refining Company; and Charles S. Jones, president of Richfield Oil Corporation.

We hiked about 5 miles. First we walked past the historic ranch buildings; then we hiked the Golden Lake Trail through large meadows of wildflowers and returning through the forest.

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