A Quick Visit to Yellowstone

The Lewis Lake campground was packed, as most Yellowstone National Park campgrounds are each night, but it wasn’t too bad.  After having a muffin and banana for breakfast, I left the campground and drove up to Grant Village and spent an hour there washing my clothes. 

 
 
Above:  After taking care of some errands in the morning, I spent a few hours exploring Yellowstone and saw Old Faithful, then I camped at Colter Bay campground in Grand Teton National Park.  

 

Out in the parking lot, I met a cheerful Aussie and we started talking.  He was about my age and was traveling around the U.S. with his daughter who, interestingly, attended Western Washington University in Bellingham, Washington.  Bellingham is my second home and I know the Western campus well, having attended dozens of sporting events at the gym there.  He had lived in San Francisco and was living off the equity of his house, which he’d recently sold.  Nice work if you can get it.

I have mixed feelings about Yellowstone National Park.  Founded in 1872, it's our nation's first National Park and, many would say, the most iconic -- and I generally agree.  But it's become so popular that I always have a hard time enjoying it.  There's what you could call a "smaller version" of this park, Lassen Volcanic National Park, in northern California, and I much prefer Lassen over Yellowstone, mainly because it's not overrun with tourists.  Still, Yellowstone is might impressive with the geysers, hot springs, waterfalls and other things you'll see nowhere else.  

I could only spend a few hours in Yellowstone, since I had to be in Laramie, Wyoming the next afternoon to meet a friend, so I looked at a park map and asked myself where I’d like to spend my brief time here, and Old Faithful geyser was the winner.  I hadn’t seen Old Faithful since 1983 but I figured it was still old (and faithful). 

The Visitor Center there has a large sign indicating the next scheduled eruption, which was an hour away, so I walked around the museum and then strolled outside around the hot springs.  The hot springs around the geyser are pretty amazing and brought back memories of my first trip to the park, when I was seven years old.  Glancing at my phone, I realized that Old Faithful was going to erupt in about 10 minutes (there's probably an app for  that, I'm guessing), so I scurried back and stood behind rows of seated visitors, who were listening to a park ranger talk about the geyser.  And sure enough, a few minutes later Old Faithful spouted off, right on time. 

It was now about 4 p.m., so I left Old Faithful and drove south to Grand Teton National Park, where I hoped to camp that night.  I pulled into the Colter Bay campground around 5 p.m. and was happy to learn that there were plenty of empty campsites, so I was able to snag a great site with lots of privacy.  I celebrated by, what else, cooking up some brats, which I’m sure everyone in the campground could smell.  Colter Bay is a pretty nice campground, with a little village and showers nearby, so I decided that someday, I’d definitely come back here.

Yellowstone to Grand Teton National Park

 

Wyoming and the Oregon Trail

I got up around 7 a.m. in the Colter Bay campground at Grand Teton National Park, ate a quick breakfast and packed up.  I drove over to the Jackson Lake Lodge, where the rich-and-famous overnight it, and I was pretty impressed.  The lodge features a terrific view of Jackson Lake and the Tetons and wasn’t as snooty as I was afraid it would be.  Too rich for my blood to stay here, but a nice place to visit for a few minutes.

 
 
Above:  After camping at Grand Teton National Park, I drove across Wyoming until I reached Laramie, where I had dinner with Warren, an old friend from Portland, and his wife Karla and their two kids.

 

I finally left Grand Teton National Park around 9 a.m., heading south on U.S. 191, the same highway I took through Moab, Utah a week earlier, then I turned east onto U.S. 26, the same highway that I used to take every day in Portland, as I commuted home.  I followed the highway across the high, windy plains of Wyoming, passing through Dubois and Lander and past the turnoff for South Pass.  This was “Oregon Trail” country, the route followed by thousands of pioneers in covered wagons starting in the 1840s, and South Pass, a few miles south of my route, was where the Oregon Trail gently crossed over the Continental Divide. 

South Pass, by the way, is a very gentle upslope-then-downslope, and very suitable for covered wagons.  It was discovered by one of my Mountain Man (i.e., fur trapper/explorer) heroes, Jedediah Smith, back in the 1820s.  I read Jed Smith’s biography many years ago and was astounded by his adventures, traveling around the West in the 1820s, mostly alone, as well as his countless and continual escapes with death, as he mapped large swaths of the American West that had previously been unknown.  He was an incredible guy who met his fate at a young age on the plains of Kansas.  Some day they’ll have to make a movie about Jedediah Smith's life.  It would be something like “The Revenant” (the 2015 movie starring Leonardo DiCaprio about the true story of another Mountain Man, Hugh Glass), but would be even more fascinating.

South Pass is a historic site because it provided a gentle crossing of the Continental Divide.  But where, you might ask, was North Pass?  Well, actually North Pass was the former name of Lemhi Pass on the Idaho/Montana boundary, where I’d camped a few nights earlier.  It was renamed “Lemhi Pass” in honor of the Lemhi Indians in the late 1800s.  So now you know.

I stopped at Split Rock, one of the landmarks of the Oregon Trail, just as I had back in 1993.  That year was the 150th anniversary of the opening of the Oregon Trail, so I decided to follow it all the way from St. Louis to Portland.  After spending 30 minutes at Split Rock, I got back in the truck and continued on to Laramie, where I checked into my motel (yes, an actual motel) around 3 p.m.

One of my old friends from Portland, Warren, lives in Laramie and I’d sent him an email a week earlier, telling him I’d be coming through town.  Warren and I used to work for the same engineering firm in Portland doing computer mapping.  I hadn’t seen him in about four years, just before his wedding in Portland.  No, I didn’t see him AT his wedding – I was invited, but I never attend weddings (too much formality).  So instead we had some grilled brats on my patio deck in Portland a few days before he got married.

After checking into my motel in Laramie, I called Warren, then I went over to his house, which was near downtown Laramie and a few blocks south of the University of Wyoming campus.  He gave me a tour of the university, then we returned to his house and shortly afterwards, his wife, Karla, came home.  Karla, by the way, had worked for the same engineering firm in Portland, so she was an old friend, too. 

Warren grilled up a great steak dinner and the five of us (with Warren and Karla’s two kids) had a wonderful time.  I’m kind of a hermit, as you may have guessed from reading my website, and it had been a long time since I’d eaten dinner with anyone.  But I must admit that it was the nicest evening I’d spent in a long time.

Driving Across Wyoming