It’s Friday morning. We wake up on the scenic pull-off on I-90W in Buffalo, WY. Through the open double doors of the van, I peak out of my sleeping bag at the thin snow-covered, gently sloping hills. Jeff grabs the kid’s snowboard that we picked up at a garage sale in Kentucky and starts bombing hills. He is much more adept on a board than I am, so while he has a little more fun sliding down the small hill, I have a little more terror. Afterwards we practice rolling the wheel (kung fu technique), we drive toward Montana.
I told Jeff a couple days ago that if we make it to Montana (weather being the deciding factor), I’m buying a big steak dinner. Less than 30 miles to the border. The mountains we are looking at in a complete 360 degree panorama are further away. The cities in Montana are pretty small and we need to get more memory for Jeff’s smart phone, so we aim for Bozeman, a sizable town about 100 miles west with a highway leading to Yellowstone’s west gate. At a grocery store downtown, we grab two filet mignons, 2lb of London broil, and bacon before heading south. Another 80 miles or so to the entrance, and he drives us between the winding evergreen walled road in the dark looking for a place to camp. A rather large female moose trots out into the road and Jeff hits the brakes hard and swerves to barely miss it. The animal’s back went about midway up the windshield of the van and we approximate the weight to be around 400lb.
At Madison Junction, we found a campsite and stopped to grab firewood from some down trees on the side of the road. We didn’t know the rules, so tried to be covert until a Ranger stopped and asked if we were alright. Yep, just getting firewood. He says goodnight and we drive back to the camping registration lot with arm sized sticks piled a foot and a half tall in the back of the van. The sign tells us to pay for the campsite in the morning and checkout time is 11AM. Jeff parks the van on a gravel shoulder between some saplings and RV’s.
Fire, beer, food. Jeff sets up the bedding and organizes the van. I build a 2-ply moat of bacon around each of the beef castles, holding them together with metal skewers and toss them on the iron fold-down grill each fire pit is equipped with. The giant rectangular London broil accompanies them next forming a laughing robot smiley face. The filets are pretty rare, borderline raw, when pull them off, and the bacon is perfect. The broil stays on for a while because it’s so huge. Imagine a buffalo getting hit in the midsection by a snowplow going 90. Ok, maybe not that gnarly, but it was pretty big. This was our first steak meal.
For breakfast, Jeff cooks eggs with steak and bacon. This is or second steak meal in a row. We clean up the camp site and hang the van floor coverings in the sunlight on a rope tied between the bright red baby pines surrounding our camp site. Jeff notices it’s already noon, so we pack up and head out. I tell the lady at the front that we are very late in leaving and would like to pay. She only charges us for one night which is $23.13, and we head to the canyon.
Not long after we hit the road, we come across a snaking stream. Candy colored rocks, green-green Christmas trees, and a mountain backdrop. I had to remind myself to breathe. A mile after that, there is a sign for a Gibbons Falls by a 20’ x 100’ shoulder for us to park. Rolling calendar falls, mist shined boulders, blah, blah, blah. We help a middle aged man hold his handicapped son, about our age, and then let him go so he is standing in front of the view. Solid dude. We continue onward to Yellowstone Grand Canyon, which is about 25 miles away. It’s getting close to 4 now and time again for some steak. No heating necessary, it’s like cold pizza, and nothing intimidates other tourists like using your teeth to rip off a hunk of dripping dead animal from your bare hand. Just remember to flex your neck muscles and hold eye contact.
A half hour down the road (speed limit is between 25 and 45, which is perfect) we start seeing steam coming out of the ground. We are at the Norris Geyser Basin. I always though geysers were natures assholes, but they are quite beautiful. Crystal blue water and colors I did not know existed in nature. Jeff and I decide there has to be a place where the boiling hot water from a geyser meets the freezing cold water of the lakes and rivers. We’ll continue searching for this later. The falls are spectacular and there is a mega huge canyon with a river about 900 feet down. We can’t see the falls clearly, but can hear it and almost feel the mist. Back in the van and 50 feet up the road is another pull off for Lookout View. Now we can see the falls. Back in the van and we see a sign for Grand View. This is the recurring theme for the rest of the park. Just one continuous, unique, literally breathtaking view for about 3,400 square miles. It’s about 5:00 now, so we skip Artist Point and Inspiration Point, otherwise we won’t make it to camp before dark.
After dark we pull into camp at Mammoth Hot Springs. We spent the rest of the evening driving around and looking at badass stuff until we couldn’t see anymore. Yellowstone is a hell of a drug. Jeff and I do the cook clean routine again and guess what is on the menu. Double Bacon double cheese steaks motha #()@&a! Extra steak and some mayo on the fire butter-toasted bread, ya dig? So much meat it should have been two sandwiches, but we woofed em down like a couple hungry hostages.
After dinner, we looked for further entertainment. Up the hill of the campsite, was a fire with several people laughing and singing. Music. We prepare for the crusade. Bottle of wine, bag of tobacco, guitar, G and D flutes, lantern, and we ride. Or walk. I ask if they want some guitar to go with their singing as we approach the light. Unanimously welcomed, we pop a squat and my frozen fingers do their best to find chords. They are pretty lit already (about 8 of them) so the requests are constant. Great, except I only know a bunch of really old songs, most of which have southern rock influence, and the group we are with are mostly international students attending the university of Montana and we are on the Montana-Wyoming border at this point. One really cool dude, Brandon, is also from Georgia, so I have something to work with.
They are generous with drinks and we are getting along famously when the Ranger pulls up and tells us there’s been a noise complaint. That is a win and a loss. Jeff and I are usually by ourselves and don’t have the opportunity to get rowdy enough to cause a disturbance, but at the same time, we have to put away the guitar and we are supposed to be in the great outdoors. Lame, but we calm down a bit and carry on at a dull roar. I make the mistake of pulling out the guitar for some instrumental solo songs, which quickly turn into a sing-song fest and the Ranger returns. Now we are told to go to bed and get to relive the feeling that a 9-year-old has at a slumber party. Bed time. Most of the group goes to sleep except Brandon and Bryan, an Irish exchange student, equally cool. We are all immediately bros and go back to ourfire pit for more drinks and conversation. At around 4AM, we all decide reluctantly that we’d better call it quits because we are getting up around 8. Ok, one more beer. One more cigarette. The fire just lit back up, let’s have another beer. We felt the other side of a 9-year-old at a slumber party, which is: we don’t want this night to end. Great talks and great guys. Bed time.
Sunday. We get up at about 7:45am. I run up the hill with a percolator and some Denny’s coffee. The cloudy pains swelling our brains are occasionally broken by casual conversation. It is a quiet morning and we head to some sights with our new friends before the take the 5 hour drive back to Missoula. The first attraction is the Golden Staircase, near our campsite. This naturally formed terrace is made of sulfur deposits from the geyser on the hill and is pretty cool. Shiny in the morning sun with vibrant greens and whatnot. The steak diet has finally caught up to me, so I don’t really feel like climbing the side of a mountain. I chill by the van and wait for the group to return. Afterwards, we drive around and find a remote stream to do a little nature walk. It’s pretty relaxing and after an hour, we end up back at the parking lot. Brandon and the Indian dude (not native American) take off their socks to do some cold water walking. Rassimus, I think from Sweden, says you either go in all the way or you don’t and keeps his shoes on. After a few moments of debate, I look at him and say, “you ready?” I get down to my skibbies, walk into the middle of the calf-deep stream and lay down. Cold is what I feel, but after getting back in the grass and sun, I feel great. Either my nerves were shocked or adrenaline was flowing. I dried off and felt great the whole time. Rassimus was next, followed by another really cool chick. She cut her foot, but not bad, so after a little first aid, I say goodbye and we part ways. I will be back to visit at least some of them in Missoula.
Jeff had been sleeping the whole time and I took advantage of this to see if a girl was still working at a gift shop in Mammoth that mentioned something about hot springs the night before. She was and I found out exactly where we had to go. I spent some time in a dining hall catching up on the blog and then went back to the van. Jeff just woke up and we watched the elk, who just roam around all over the parking lots and roads. There are first only 2, and a guy with an orange vest is controlling the crowd to make sure no one gets too close. It’s a full time job and I take my hat off to the dude that looked like he was the real life version of the redhead from Metalocalyspe. Soon there were dozens of elk (each about 6’6”, 350) wandering around theiryard. We go up the road 2 miles to the holy grail.
The Gardner River meets the Boiling River. Not a lot of people are supposed to know about this, because they have become too popular in the past and damages were incurred. It isn’t on any of the maps and people we told didn’t believe it existed. This was my favorite moment of the road trip so far. You park and walk a half a mile along the Gardner River to a stair-sloped bank where you leave your belongings. The first few steps on the slippery river rocks are freezing cold. After 20 feet or so, the small waterfalls to your left bring the steaming hot water of the Boiling River. For the next 30 feet, it is almost unbearably hot. After climbing a rock ledge, you are in the river. There is a balance point, where a few inches to the right and you are an ice cube, a few to the left, you are on fire. Walk this shifty line to the bath where everyone is relaxing. The hot tub takes me a while to get acclimated, but finally I can sit underneath the waterfall from the Boiling River. Absolutely amazing. Best night of my life, again. We are going back in the morning to enjoy this some more.
n I’ve seen some amazing things like the Himalayas in Nepal, but I kind of forget after a while. Pictures remind me, but the lesson I’m trying to learn is have a good time today. It doesn’t matter if you are waiting at the DMV drinking complimentary burnt coffee, or hang gliding off of the mountains in Tasmania, have a good time. Have the best time of your life. Don’t do things that you think are going to be memorable. Do what you want at that moment. Live now. Every day is the best day of your life. Try to argue that. Beeyuch. J
It is very dark when we leave the hot river (big surprise) and we talk about the Big Dipper on the walk back to the van, hoping that a bear doesn’t make us his pre-hibernation meal. Coyote howls are a little nerve racking, but I think I’m a little big for their menu. We go back to Mammoth to camp at the same spot as last night. There’s hardly anyone there because it’s Sunday night at the end of the season. As Jeff is parking to go slip the envelope in the late registration box with our fee inside, I ask, “why don’t we just head south?” Plan change! We throw all of our plans out the window and turn the van around. Down we go.
On our way to the Tetons, we pass Old Faithful. Brandon told us this is a check-it-off-the-list spot, but not really amazing. Maybe it’s better at night. I insist we get really, really warm because it could be a 30-100 minute wait and it’s cold out. We grab a six-pack and some blankets and try to find it in the dark. The wooden viewing platform is huge and really far away from the geyser, so it must be pretty serious. I want to walk up to it. We decide not to, because walking on thermal ground isn’t a great idea, and you can be in a hot tub before you know it.
The geyser does its thing for about 4 minutes and we just chill looking at the Big Dipper again, which is behind it. It’s like the architect of the park researched my brain before erupting that volcano half a million years ago. I’m still itching to see it up close, and stumble up the rocky hill in the dark for about 50 yards. I dodge some warm water puddles the size of our van and hear the big hollow sound of Darth Vader inhaling. There’s some slight vibration in the ground and a faint orange glow on the inside rim of the geyser opening. I use my adolescent Georgia spitting skills to land in the hole while still keeping an 8 foot distance. I whisper yell to Jeff and convince him to come up and spit in it, too, then we skedaddle. We sleep in the Old Faithful parking lot and head for the Tetons in the morning.