The First Two Weeks, or: How to Cope With Camping in a Winter Storm in June, Missing the Game of Thrones Finale, Two Weeks in a Car With Your Partner, and Hot Dog Breakfasts.
It's been an unreal trip so far. Graham and I are currently staying with a friend in Denver and have some time to relax and catch up on "outside life." Our trip has certainly not gone according to plan, and we're learning to roll with the punches and really enjoy it.
We spent an extra day in Missoula with my friend Callie, lured by the prospect of breakfast burritos, more local craft brews, barbecue at the Notorious P.I.G., and an afternoon on the river. It certainly didn't disappoint.
Our second stop was Glacier National Park. I almost think it was a mistake to start with Glacier - it's certainly going to remain on our top five Parks list and it's hard to imagine any other Park being quite as impressive! We drove the Going to the Sun Road from end to end, a first for me, and were treated to snowy peaks, rolling hills, expansive lakes, and even a grizzly sighting.
Our last night in Glacier we traveled around to the East Side to camp at Two Medicine. I was a bit hesitant about camping at Two Medicine, but agreed in the end. The last time I was at Two Medicine, as my friend Kate and I were drifting off to sleep in the nearly deserted camp, we heard the unmistakable snorting and snuffling sounds of a grizzly on the prowl, just feet from our tent. We bolted upright and looked at each other for a few seconds, to confirm we were both hearing the same thing. I briefly considered frantically searching my bag for the bear safety pamphlet we received from Yellowstone, which gave specific responses to numerous kinds of bear encounters - the same pamphlet I had joked about being useless in an emergency just earlier that day. With the noises rapidly approaching, however, Kate and I settled for playing some Grateful Dead from my phone and loudly asking the bear to please leave us in peace. It worked, but considering we were the only people in the campground besides an RV on the opposite side of the lot, we decided to hightail it out of there.
This time around, Two Medicine proved to have surprises of a different nature in store for me. Graham and I arrived around 11:30am to an already rainy and windy campground. We decided to set up our tent and crawl inside to play some board games and wait out the bad weather. Unfortunately, that plan was doomed from the start. About thirty minutes after setting up our tent, the camp host came over to deliver the bad news. "Hey folks, just wanted to let you know that we're under a winter storm warning and you're in just about the most exposed campsite we've got. You're going to want to move, and soon."
Winter storm warning? June? I could hardly believe it, yet I couldn't deny that the howling wind and rain blowing in from the lake was growing steadily worse. Graham and I quickly took our tent down, almost losing it to the wind more than a few times. Unfortunately, by this point, most of the sites at Two Medicine were full, especially the well sheltered one. We attempted to set up camp again up the hill a bit, but after being battered by wind and hail, decided to take the wimpy way out and snuggled down in our sleeping bags in the front seat of the car. Sure, sleeping in the car isn't ideal... but we were warm, dry, and managed to leave early enough the next morning that we got to Yellowstone about five hours ahead of schedule and got an extra afternoon among the geysers and hot springs!
Yellowstone National Park was another stop on my previous roadtrip, and another one that Graham had never been to. It certainly didn't disappoint my memories or his expectations.
Once again, the superstar of my Yellowstone visit was the West Thumb Geyser Basin. If you only have one afternoon in Yellowstone (which, if this is the case, please, please,stay longer!), go to the West Thumb Geyser Basin! You'll get to walk this beautiful boardwalk trail that winds between numerous hot springs and geysers and sits right on the shores of Yellowstone Lake. You can even see the Absaroka Mountain range rising up behind the lake - it's a breathtaking combination.
My second favorite part of Yellowstone was a new area to me, the Tower-Roosevelt area. It's the most remote area in Yellowstone, and contains the expansive plains and hills of the Northeast corner. Graham and I drove to that corner of the park in search of some more elusive wildlife, namely grizzlies, black bears, and wolves.
The first wildlife we spotted was a small group of pronghorns, grazing along the side of the road. We tried to talk to some of the other people stopped to look at the pronghorns, hoping they could give us some tips on the best places to spot bears. Instead, one guy told us that about five miles down the road was a massive herd of about eight hundred buffalo. Now, buffalo are massive creatures, and it was hard to imagine there being that many of them in one place. Graham and I scoffed and assured each other it was probably more like three hundred and this guy was just overexcited. Oh boy we were proven wrong. We drove the five miles down the road and slowly started to see buffalo grazing on both sides of the road, with the herd stretching down to the river about half a mile away. We kept driving... and the buffalo herd continued. We continued to see buffalo for about a mile and a half down the road and realized that eight hundred was probably a conservative estimate for the herd!
One of the biggest challenges of the first two weeks has been getting used to car/camp cooking. We've mainly relied on cheap and easy options, such as banana-PB wraps or oatmeal for breakfast and tuna-ramen-mashed potatoes for dinner. After multiple identical meals, though, we needed to switch things up. I'd say Yellowstone was the turning point for us - we spontaneously bought some hot dogs at the general store during one of our souvenir trips (Graham is collecting magnets from every park, while I'm sporadically purchasing stickers and Christmas tree ornaments whenever inspiration strikes). The hot dogs tasted so good that we had them for dinner, breakfast, and dinner again.
After we took care of our hot dog cravings we got a bit more ambitious. For our best cast iron dinner yet we sauteed up sliced summer sausage rounds, onion, green apple, and orange bell pepper and added some hot sauce and fire toasted bread - it was genuine fire pit gourmet!
Our last Wyoming stop was Grand Teton National Park. We drove down from Yellowstone early in the morning, hoping to snag a good camping spot before everything filled up. We ended up getting hopelessly delayed because of the numerous photo stops we just had to make as soon as we were in sight of the Tetons. Luckily, we still managed to find a great spot at the Signal Mountain Campground and still have plenty of time to explore the park for the rest of the day.
The next morning we woke up early to go kayaking in Jackson Lake, another favorite part of the trip so far. It was so much fun to kayak in the shadow of the mountains, and we spent the rest of the afternoon swimming and relaxing on the beach.