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Trip Report 2 weeks in Wyoming and Montana - 3 NPs and hanging out in the Crazies -

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Mid June 2010
2 weeks, 3 National Parks (Grand Tetons, Yellowstone and Glacier) and some down time just hanging out in Montana.

Week 1 = 4 of us, representing four different decades 40s, 50s, 60s and 70s
Week 2 = 2 of us, just following our noses and seeing as much as energy and the elements allow us to see.

I was invited along on a previously planned trip, so my total input was to make the lodging reservations in Montana and to suggest that we really do want to turn around and go back to see Artist Point in Yellowstone. That's about it. Oh, I packed three guidebooks and bought a wonderful new camera the night before we left.

And with that immense amount of preparation, we were off!

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    The guidebooks - I'd "earned" three new books so I ordered in the new Fodors combined edition but also the Compass guides for Montana and for Wyoming.

    I'm a new fan of the Compass guides! If you haven't tried them, order one for your next trip. Really liked the presentation of material, the colors and the literary references.

    We flew into Jackson Hole airport and out of Kalispell (on FF miles). We had a small SUV reserved but upgraded to a Chevy Traverse. I LOVE this crossover SUV. I'm seriously considering buying one. Loved the back-up camera visible on the rear view mirror. Loved the extra blind spot mirrors on the side mirrors. The heated seats were a nice touch because it was chilly in June. We folded down the third row of seats and had lots of room for luggage (and we had lots of luggage). Love the Bose speakers and the DVD system in the back would have been nice for kids. It remained unused. There was plenty of room for everyone and was very comfortable for everyone. The rental fee for two weeks with a different drop off point was in the $700 range.

    We were picked up in the 'burbs by the car service around 4am for our early morning flight. Landed about 3 pm in Jackson. The plane neighbor was a travel professional based in Jackson and she shared some suggestions for the visit. We took her up on her first one as soon as we left the airport.

    We headed south from the airport and instead of heading into Jackson, we turned at the Gros Ventre Junction and took the secondary road as a loop that allowed us to oohh and ahhh without impeding traffic. The scenery in the Tetons is really some of the most spectacular anywhere. My first visit was in 1981 but I've loved the valley since childhood thanks to movies. Shane. Spencer's Mountain. Other movies. The first time I saw the mountains in real life it was almost like coming home again. The 1981 visit was memorable if not the most pleasant of visits. I was really ready to be back in the Tetons and wanted to savor our time there.

    Our driver wanted to see wildlife and we were on the lookout. We passed by the sign for Gros Ventre campground and I realized that's where the Pickle's horned owls were nesting. Mormon Row came into view and then we saw animals move. An antelope! A couple of buffalo! The first animal sightings are always exciting. We finished the drive back to the main road and then headed south again toward Moose. Our next stop was the Visitor Center at Moose.

    This Visitor Center was new to me and it is absolutely gorgeous. Beautiful views of the Tetons. Gorgeous exhibits. Nice gift shop. Helpful rangers. I bought two new books - stories of homesteaders in the Tetons and Yellowstone, and I was happy. I bring books but have to have reading material about the local area.

    My first stop at the visitor center was the dry erase board with the weather forecast -
    Today - Cloudy. 40% chance of rain. High 49-54 degrees F
    Tonight - Cloudy. 40% chance of rain/snow. Low 35-39 degrees F
    Tomorrow - Cloudy. 20% chance of rain. High 54-59 degrees F
    We laughed. We were ALL glad we added some winter clothes at the last minute. We wore them every day but one in the upcoming two weeks. Note the "tomorrow" forecast. It will be just a little bit off.

    As we left the Moose VC, I requested a little bit of a detour to see the actual location of the little church in the Tetons. I'd wanted to visit it during a service for years - probably since I first saw Spencer's Mountain with Henry Fonda and Maureen O'Hara. To get to it we had to enter NP property. Since we had Golden Eagles in the back (actually the pass is now just called the Senior Pass), we started the ritual of saying "He's in the back" and rolling down the window so the ranger could see the pass holder. In Glacier, we'd have to actually buy a 7 day pass. :-)

    Now that we'd scouted out the area, we headed back in to Jackson to check in the hotel and get a bite to eat.

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    Jackson info -
    The Wyoming planner had made reservations at the Ranch Inn -
    http://www.ranchinn.com/
    It was a pleasant motel a block off the square, with private balconies, fridge and microwave and internet in the room. It was a good choice.

    My favorite place in Jackson is the Cowboy Bar -
    http://www.milliondollarcowboybar.com/
    We went in and "saddled up" to the bar - but we were in the in-between time between lunch and dinner. Sandwiches were available but those were nixed. We wandered a bit and ended up at Billy's - because they were serving at that time.

    http://www.jacksonholerestaurants.com/billys.shtml
    It wasn't my favorite. The burgers were okay. My tomato basil soup was okay. The French onion soup was GREAT. The local beer on tap was very good too.

    Our time clocks were still set on "home" time and we'd gotten up at 3am. We went back to the room to rest for a little bit and then headed back to the square for photo ops with the antler arches and then to watch the shoot-out.
    http://www.jacksonholenet.com/events/shoot_out.php

    Folks were lined to watch. The show was cute if a bit corny. The noise and gunsmoke got to us so we wandered off to find a place to buy water and fruit for the days ahead.

    My best tip for Jackson WY - http://www.pearlstmeatandfish.com/specials.html

    no kidding

    We LOVED this market. Gourmet groceries. Deli. Imported cheeses. Homemade soups. Lots of choices for drinks. We all wished we had gone here to get soup for dinner. It's a perfect stop for quick meals and/or drinks and snacks for your trip.

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    Sunday in Jackson -
    The motel offered a continental breakfast but we enjoyed yogurt, juice and banana from the market. Off in time to get to Moose (again) to get to the church early enough for the 10am service. The local Episcopal church provides services at the Chapel of the Transfiguration, the tiny log church whose plate glass window frames the Tetons.
    http://www.jacksonholewy.net/park_highlights/chapel_of_the_transfiguration.php
    It was a lovely service. Locals, seasonal residents and tourists attended the service. The organist and her husband were celebrating their 60something anniversary. A tourist was there and had been a bridesmaid at a wedding there 40 years ago. The wedding couple were returning later in the week for a renewal of vows. Tiny church. Friendly people. Gorgeous setting. It was my only item on my Teton Wish List and I was thrilled to be there.

    We headed back to Moose to stop at Dornan's for the open-air pancake and bacon breakfast my airplane friend had told me about. Alas, it was too late for breakfast at the Chuckwagon. So, we wondered the gift shop, grocery store and deli at Dornan's and then headed to the end to the Pizza and Pasta restaurant.
    http://www.dornans.com/

    What a meal! What a view! What a find!
    I know, I know. Others have mentioned Dornan's but I can't rave enough about our food. A panini, pizza and quesadilla were ordered but MY greek pasta with chicken was absolutely divine. We were very pleasantly surprised how good the food was - and the view of the Tetons through the windows cannot be matched.

    Dornan's also has a great wine shop. We asked for recommendations and picked up a Hells Canyon Retriever Red (Idaho) to take with us on the trip.
    http://www.hellscanyonwinery.org/awards

    That probably wasn't on Sunday (can't remember). We liked Dornan's so much we returned on the next day for sandwiches from their deli.

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    The main (planned) event for Day 2 in the Tetons was a ride on Big Red -
    http://www.tram-formation.com/

    We asked for directions to the ski resort and were told that the Moose-Wilson road was open. We headed out on the secondary road and I can't recommend highly enough getting off the main road onto the secondary roads.

    The scenery on the little road was gorgeous (how could it not be?!) but R, the driver said "I really wish we would see a moose". Just a few minutes later, a moose appeared on the road. Not just a moose, but a mama moose with her baby. Traffic stopped. They ambled down the middle of the little dirt/gravel road. We stood in awe. They headed straight for us - and then turned at the ranger's SUV. The pictures are great (posted on Facebook). We happily continued on.

    From that point on R was known as the Wildlife Whisperer. She would say "I'd love to see a ______" and one would appear. The only unfulfilled wish was a bald eagle.

    Big Red was amazing. The ride was twice as far/steep as a similar tram/ cable car to Stone Mountain. When we reached the top, everything was covered with snow. Deep packed snow. We wandered around for 20 minutes, grabbed a hot chocolate (waffles with nutella were also available) and then...it started to snow. On June 13th. Snow.
    But, oh yeah, we're at the top of the mountain. Cool.

    Loved the ride back down - and the views - and then were off again to drive some more, find more animals and to head to Jenny Lake.

    Back to Gros Ventre Junction, back to Gros Ventre campground. We drove in to "see the Pickles' owls". I think the Golden Eagles in the back thought I was crazy. How exactly are we going to find nesting owls in the campground?

    By the yellow caution tape and the folks peering through cameras on tripods, that's how! And we did. And we pointed my new camera. And we took some pictures. It wasn't until days later that I realized what great shots we got.

    A bit of an aside - two days before we left, I found my Canon Powershot on the picnic table. Outside. It had been there for a couple of days. Days with rain. I was sick and furious with myself. Yes, I ruined my "big" camera. :-(

    The night before we left I swung into Best Buy with the intent to buy another Canon Powershot if I could find a good one for less than $250. I grabbed the Powershot SX120 with 10X zoom and 10 megapixels. It was smaller in size than my previous Powershot and I hoped it would be a good choice. It was an amazing choice. This camera caught shots that I had no idea was possible. The pics are amazing. It's the camera, not me. GREAT shots of the nesting horned owl.

    Back to the loop and I suggested we take some pics of the houses on Mormon Row. Wildlife Whisperer turned off sooner than I expected and we were driving down an unfamiliar road. We started encountering mud puddles. The first few were easily passed. We skirted the next few. Then we face a monster of a mud puddle. We stopped and all four of us pondered the possibilities. It was deep. It was muddy on all sides. The Traverse DID have 4WD. There WERE cars in sight so the must have gotten across. The decision was made.
    We turned around.

    After getting back on the road, we made the big curve and there were a few of the houses - and on the opposite side of the road was a very short section of the opposite end of the lane that took us to the rest. The cars were there, but they had not come from the other end. We could then see the barricade that wasn't earlier visit. Maybe we would have made it through. Who knows? But, I got to see the houses and photograph The Barn - the most photographed spot in the Tetons
    http://www.oceanlight.com/log/mormon-row-barns-grand-teton-national-park.html
    (not my picture)
    There IS a picture of me in front of the barn and I'm just beaming. So happy!

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    At the end of Day 2 we are finally stopping at the pullouts, looking at the exhibit boards, soaking in the Tetons, watching a raft or two come down the Snake. It's colder than it was before - and then, it snows! Down in the valley. Down in the Hole. Snow! :-)

    It's getting late. It's perfect driving/ wildlife spotting time. We're headed to Jackson Lake because we are spending the night there - at Jackson Lake Lodge.
    http://www.gtlc.com/lodging/jackson-lake-lodge-lodge-views.aspx

    The planner booked two rooms but only 1 Mountain View Lodge room was available. The view was absolutely spectacular. I've stayed in nice rooms with nice views before, but this room was incredible. If you go, I strongly recommend the splurge to stay in this room. Our room did not have the view, but was a nicely appointed room with Craftsman style furniture and just off the upper floor lobby/balcony with the same incredible views. Internet access is advertised for the lobby, but since we were so close I decided to give it a try. I was pleasantly surprised to have internet access in a national park room. The rooms do not have TVs but we brought an assortment of DVDs to watch. After two weeks, we still haven't finished Young Victoria :-)

    We decided to take the more casual dinner option and save the dining room for breakfast. We ate at the diner style/ counter service Pioneer Grill. The same kitchen may serve both. All I know is my trout was delicious, the service was fast and friendly and we interacted with other happy customers. We wanted to try a slice of huckleberry pie, but they had just sold the last slice. We took a slice of apple pie back for later and then headed down to the Blue Heron Bar for a drink and to soak in the view.

    http://www.gtlc.com/dining/jackson-lake-lodge-pioneer-grill.aspx
    http://www.gtlc.com/dining/jackson-lake-lodge-blue-heron-lounge.aspx
    I enjoyed a huckleberry margarita and the bartender from "home" concocted a great drink per vague specifications. The ball game was on, the view was still incredible and it was a great place to end the day.

    The next morning we did eat in the Mural Room -
    http://www.gtlc.com/dining/jackson-lake-lodge-the-mural-room.aspx
    The setting was gorgeous, the service was excellent and the food was good too. I opted for the buffet and enjoyed the chef special and waffles that came with an elk motif. They do things right at the Jackson Lake Lodge. Three nice shops for browsing - and the next morning we also bought binoculars for mom (since all four pair were left at home).

    I highly recommend the Jackson Lake Lodge.

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    Day 3 - last day in the Tetons
    Back towards Moose - believe it or not. Traveling Teton Park Road, stopping at the dam for pictures and exploration. A photo stop at the Chapel of the Sacred Heart. On to Jenny Lake Lodge for a quick look-around. I bought a sagebrush candle from their gift shop. Back down to the Chapel of Transfiguration for more pictures and then quick stroll from the Maud Noble cabin (interesting story) past Menors Ferry (not running because the water was too high and fast) to the little general store and then on to Dornan's for those deli sandwiches. We then headed north again, taking pictures of bison along the way, on our way to the Flagg Ranch just at the tip of the GTNP and just south of Yellowstone. We did make one wrong turn and took a beautiful detour toward Dubois and over the gorgeous pass.

    Flagg Ranch - http://www.flaggranch.com/lodging.html
    not a fan
    We stayed in the cabins, but the rooms were basic motel room style
    Pricey ($180) with no extra features
    The beds were the least comfortable on the trip
    We ate at their restaurant. The service was VERY good that evening, but not in the morning.

    Rocking chairs were ready outside each cabin, but so were the mosquitos. I got some good sunset pics, but I wouldn't stay here again, nor recommend it. It was a big disappointment.

    Tomorrow - Yellowstone!

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    Fabulous report, Starrs! and your pictures are stunning. I'm going to check out the Canon Powershot as my Kokak is on the outs. Last year I tried to reserve lodging on Jackson Lake but it was booked so we're staying at Signal Mt.. Thank you for your report, I am especially grateful for all the food recs. :-) What an incredible adventure--cannot wait to read more.

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    Great report. I don't see your link to photos. Am i just missing it? I would love to go back to Yellowstone. We were there mid-June 08 and it was great. Missed the owls, though. But I did see a bald eagle or two.

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    Hi spiro, my photos are up on Facebook. I may move some of them over to Flikr or similar next week. I need to check the pics on "the little camera"
    AnnMarie has seen the ones on FB.

    We had a hawk hanging around during week 2 of the trip, but no bald eagle. It WAS a disappointment for the Wildlife Whisperer.

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    Best Buy, AnnMarie :-)

    So, on to Yellowstone! For anyone who may be reading this in the future as you plan a trip, just remember....Yellowstone is big. Huge! The size of Delaware and Rhode Island (if I remember correctly) combined. There's an upper loop and a lower loop and together they make a figure 8. The distances of each section on the map don't look that long. Just remember, you can't just race through Yellowstone. There is one lane in each direction. You can count on there being road construction somewhere in the summer - because they have such a short window of opportunity in the weather to do road construction. You can almost be certain of some wildlife roadblock somewhere at some time. When a bison herd is in the road, you wait. You wait behind the other cars waiting. No, you can't zip ahead because you want to be somewhere at a certain time. Please. Relax and enjoy the park and let others relax and enjoy the park too. (okay, off my soapbox).

    My 2 items on my Yellowstone Wish List were Old Faithful and Mammoth Hot Springs. Since we were spending the night at the Old Faithful Inn it made my wish list pretty short and simple.

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    Somewhere I have the map with the actual drive times. I can't find it now, but will add those times if I run across it.

    We left Flagg Ranch after breakfast. Flagg Ranch is just outside the south entrance of Yellowstone. 22 miles later, our first stop at Grant Village Visitor center. Rest room breaks and the primary and secondary drivers conferred with the ranger on the best route to take for the next two days. Armed with highlighted maps and a plan, we were off.

    Second stop - The geyser basin at West Thumb -
    http://www.yellowstonenationalpark.com/westthumb.htm
    A nice walk along the boardwalk and the lake to see some of Yellowstone's amazing geothermal activity. A great intro to what will be found ahead. Seeing the Abyss, Black Pool and mudpots was like seeing old friends. Loved the story about the Fishing Cone -

    "Fishing Cone is a thermal feature unique to Yellowstone. It is situated on the shore of Yellowstone Lake and received its name from early explorers who stood on the cone and cast their lines into the lake to catch fish. Without taking the fish off the hook they parboiled them in the vent of Fishing Cone"

    That story will have relevance later in the trip :-)

    Back in the car for the next 21 mile segment along the lake. The most significant event on this leg was seeing a bear just off the road. I wouldn't let us stop for pictures. He was just too close to get out of the car for a photo op and bears can move too fast for my comfort level. So, we took a mental picture and moved on.

    We made a quick stop to see Sulphur Caldron but opted out of the walk to Mud Volcano. As usual, there were a lot of bison in the Hayden Valley and it's just a beautiful drive.

    I had my moment of usefulness and suggested we double back for the Artist Point turnoff. It is one of the prettiest views in the park.
    http://www.nps.gov/archive/yell/features/vr/artpoint.htm

    It's only 16 miles from Fishing Bridge to Canyon, but those three segments 59 miles total brought us into the Canyon area well after lunch. We stopped first to top off the tank.

    NP tip - fill up your tank when you have the opportunity. We rarely let it drop below 1/2 tank.

    Lunch at Canyon -
    We left the car to head for lunch and rest room breaks and the plan was to eat at the Canyon Cafeteria. Two of us already had our trays and were settling in when the others joined us - and remembered they can't eat at cafeterias (for medical reasons). That was a big disappointment for me. I'd prefer to eat at the Canyon Dining room, but hey, I got a camp style experience I guess ;)

    The cafeteria does have a novel approach. There are three sizes and colors of plates, and you pick your size/color and pay the corresponding price. It's a good way to meet the needs of those who just eat a little and those who eat a lot. We chose the middle option and the entree I chose was sliced turkey (as in turkey in dressing type meal). The food was fine - just not S&S from home :-)

    http://www.yellowstonenationalparklodges.com/Canyon-Lodge-Cafeteria-7964.html

    As it turns out, we found our way to Canyon the next day and grabbed sandwiches from the deli and I prefer the cafeteria option to the deli sandwiches. The turkey croissant was not very good at all but the roast beef sandwich I tasted was better. The sandwiches are premade and wrapped in the cooler for your choice. Chips and ice cream are available too.

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    The afternoon would be spent driving from Canyon to Mammoth and back down to Old Faithful. Not a lot of stops along the way, but we didn't get to Old Faithful until after 6. (I promise I'll find the map with the actual times on it).

    Now, Mammoth was my #1 wish list item.
    I can't tell you how disappointed I was.
    Mammoth Hot Springs was dead.
    Nada. Nothing. Nothing at all flowing.
    The Pickles had just been there and had a completely different experience.
    I love Mammoth. In years past, I would drive into the park from Island Park, Idaho and spend hours at Mammoth.
    I could not believe how dead/dry/lifeless the springs were.

    We stopped in town first (for bathroom breaks), walked into the lobby of the hotel, visited the visitor center (which I enjoyed very much), smiled and pointed at the elk hanging out in town (because of the watered grass) and then I guided us to a parking lot in the middle of the hill.

    We arrived at Minerva Terrace - and nothing. No water. No steam. No color. No "life" at all. I found it very, very sad.
    Here's a youtube link to what it usually looks like -
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lqaduXkPPqk

    We walked up further and all four of us were discouraged. Three were wondering why the heck I wanted to stop here. We were about to turn back when I asked someone and there was some flow further up "just past that tree". We all continued on...and there was a trickle of water coming down and a tiny bit of color. I knew that the features were constantly changing, but never expected that dramatic a change.

    Back in the car on the way to Old Faithful -

    Traffic slowed down just past the sign for the Grizzly Lake trail. A woman was walking past the parked cars, and if she were a ranger she was off duty. A grizzly was up on the hillside. Thanks to my magic camera I got some good shots.

    When it was time for another rest room stop, we stopped at the ranger museum -
    http://ypf.convio.net/site/News2?page=NewsArticle&id=5205
    I was told it was a decent restroom for an "outpost" restroom.
    I loved the tiny Museum of the National Park Ranger. It took less than 5 minutes to walk through.
    From the parking lot we saw a regal buffalo resting creekside.
    A little bit further down we saw a mama buffalo with her baby.

    And then, before we got to Old Faithful we found the Summer Construction Zone. The wait was 20 minutes (in both directions - that afternoon and the next morning). You turn off your car with windows rolled down and enjoy the scenery (and hopefully the company inside the car) as you wait.

    Finally, at 6:30 - the Old Faithful Inn!

    2 + 22 + 21 + 16 miles = breakfast to lunch
    12 + 21 + 21 + 14 +16 miles = lunch to dinner
    with a few stops along the way
    About 3/4 of the figure eight of Yellowstone roads
    Schedule more time if you want to actually get out and do some hiking in the park

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    It's been a busy week and a great weekend! Time to get back to this report :-)

    Old Faithful Inn -
    How can you NOT love it?! It feels so good to be back again. It's been a few years and last time we stayed overlooking the geyser - and I was thrilled to learn that the room was a geyser view again. It's hard to beat hearing the geyser erupt every 1.5 hours or so. The board in the lobby will give you a prediction, plus or minus 20 minutes. When you're snoozing with just an open window between, you don't care when...but it's oddly comforting to hear it :-)

    The last trip was in October, during the last weekend of the season. It snowed. Magical :-) One of my favorite memories was eating at the counter at Fred Harvey's and listening to the retiree couples discuss their season at Yellowstone and their plans (usually Arizona) before the next season begins - at YNP or another National Park.

    This year, we started our stay with dinner in the Old Faithful Dining Room. I don't think you can do much better. Once again, we enjoyed conversations with the waitstaff. Noah, our waiter, was funny, charming and a great waiter. I was especially impressed with our runner (I've forgotten her name). She just LOOKED like she was an amazing person. Throughout the evening we got snippets of her life - and learned she was a designer/ project manager from Houston responsible for multi-million dollar projects - taking a sabbatical before the next big project began. With a smirk she said the job sure teaches humility - and I imagine she had many stories to tell. ;)
    http://www.yellowstonenationalparklodges.com/UserFiles/File/yellowstone-pdf/2009-menus/2009-ofi-dinner.pdf

    The food - fabulous.
    The steaks were good, but my Chicken Oscar was divine. The table of 4 voted it best by far, and I'm so glad I made that choice. Our starters included crab cakes, a nice wedge salad and gorgeous huge prawns.
    http://www.yellowstonenationalparklodges.com/UserFiles/File/yellowstone-pdf/2009-menus/2009-ofi-dinner.pdf

    After dinner? Back to the room with a nice glass of wine to watch for the next eruption of Old Faithful. It doesn't get much better than that.

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    The Old Faithful Inn rooms - nice. Bright. Still a lot of yellow in the room. Yes, the cute little bear-soaps were waiting in the bathroom - and you can buy as many more as you'd like in the gift shop for 99 cents each. Nice toiletries (can't remember the brand). Hairdryer in the room. (I add these details because someone asked earlier on the board).

    There is no air conditioning - and we could already tell in June. There was a fan in the room and we slept with that on us all night. The window was open - with Old Faithful reporting in on a regular basis. :-)

    A very nice room with Craftsman style details and en suite bathroom. Phone in room. No TV or A/C.


    Free tour of Inn - one of my favorites
    A sign in the lobby advertised the free tours of the Inn and we were ready and waiting for the morning tour. The tour guide also happened to be the personnel director for seasonal staff and she was very informative. Great tour.
    I tried to find a link without success. Here's something I found via google, that shares some of the informatiion she shared -
    http://gocalifornia.about.com/cs/wyyellowstone/a/wyyell_stoldfin.htm

    One tidbit I found very interesting was that the ceiling height was chosen to be 76 feet high - because that's the average height of a lodgepole pine forest. The architect wanted the inn itself to mimic the forest from which the trees came.

    The inn was started and completed in just one year. The crew of 50 worked hard to get it framed in before the snows came, and then worked feverishly inside to get the inn ready for the first guests in June. I find that speed amazing.

    An unknown architect was chosen to design the inn and because they got him young he was able to come back and do any additions or modifications. So, everything you see at the Inn was designed by the original architect.

    For many years, the pine logs retained their original bark. At some point (perhaps in the 30s?) the pine logs were de-barked. One reason given was to lighten the look of the lobby, but the guide suggested that maybe housekeeping had some input in the decision ;) We did see a similar lobby at East Glacier with the bark still intact on the logs. Can't decide what I like best.

    The tour moves to the original wing with a change to see one of the original rooms (sans bathroom). It was neat to see the little (and I mean little) rooms. The original dry sinks are still in the rooms for use as a table, but new sinks (with new plumbing) are now in the rooms. But for w/c or shower, those guests must walk down the hall.

    The tour continued, but we skipped the rest because we wanted to go out and walk the boardwalk.

    As much as the Mammoth Hot Springs disappointed, the Old Faithful Geyser Basin made up for it. The features were glorious. I kept saying, "You know what I kept telling you should be seeing at Mammoth? THIS is what I'm talking about!" I was literally thrilled to see so much hot springs activity.

    The boardwalk walk was wonderful and as we neared a hilltop we saw a big bison...with her babies right next to her. Just feet away from us. So close - and they pretty much didn't care we were there.

    As we were walking back to the inn, a quiet little cone started spewing. We stopped and watched...and then a geyser that makes Old Faithful look demure really started taking off. It was the Beehive - and its long eruption was like 30 of OF's combined. A truly spectacular show and as many times as I've been to OF I was thrilled to be a witness to the Beehive Geyser's eruption. I was able to grab some of it on video. What a great way to end the stay at Old Faithful!
    http://www.yellowstone.net/geysers/geyser01.htm

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    General Yellowstone suggestions -
    Take your time. Don't be in a hurry.
    The roads are 2 lane - one going in each direction.
    You can be pretty sure there's going to be road construction - because there's limited time to do the road work during the year.
    You can be pretty sure traffic will come to a stop because of wildlife sightings. Elk. Bison. Bear. Varied. Cars will come to a stop, pull off to the side of the road if possible, but there will be many times when cars are moving in only one direction.
    And there's a good possibility that wildlife will be IN the road and bring everything to a standstill in both directions.
    So, plan accordingly and have lots of extra time.
    Don't be in rush and be in danger of other drivers and the wildlife.

    Having said that, don't do what we do and schedule too much into just one day. I didn't plan the first week of the trip and was very concerned about this day's plan. From Old Faithful to Red Lodge MT in just one day. Over the Beartooth Highway. Do that route. Just don't do it in one day. ;)

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    The Lamar Valley
    If you want to get an idea of what the plains might have been with thousands of buffalo roaming free, the Lamar Valley will give you a glimpse into what it might have been.

    Gorgeous scenery. A good chance to see a variety of wildlife. But almost a surety of seeing hundreds of bison just hanging out, doing what bison have done for centuries. Just a gorgeous corner of Yellowstone.

    Just as we were almost out of the park, the Wildlife Whisperer once again made a request - a big horn sheep. Yep. We round a corner, see a car pulled over to the right, look around...and there the noble creature sits. The new super duper camera got several great shots of this beautiful animal sitting calmly, looking as if he was posing for the passers-by. A great way to end the Yellowstone part of the trip.

    Or not. We may be coming back in the park. TBD.

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    The Beartooth Highway
    It is as spectacular as you have heard.
    It was also a bit scary on this mid-point day in June.

    I've been to Alaska twice - both times in winter. We've driven from Haines to Whitehorse in the Yukon Territory. In winter. This 3 hour drive on the Beartooth was absolutely awe-inspiring.

    Here's a description from the link above -
    The Beartooth All-American Road passes through The Beartooth Corridor. It is one of the highest and most rugged areas in the lower 48 states, with 20 peaks reaching over 12,000 feet in elevation. In the surrounding mountains, glaciers are found on the north flank of nearly every mountain peak over 11,500 feet high. The Road itself is the highest elevation highway in Wyoming (10,947 feet) and Montana (10,350 feet), and is the highest elevation highway in the Northern Rockies.


    We are looking forward to the drive - but a bit concerned. The temperature is dropping. We stop in Cooke City to go to the bathroom. It starts to rain while we are inside. When we get back to the car and turn on the wipers, there is slush on the wipers. We look at each other in silence and decide if we still want to go forward.

    We do. And, we're glad we did...once we got on the other side. But we were concerned. The temps continued to drop. It got down to 34 degrees. The rain turned from rain to snow then sleet. Everything around us was frozen. Everything around us was steel grey in color. It was beautiful. It was awesome. It was a bit overwhelming. I'll post the pictures and they are gorgeous. Just a lot of snow, partially frozen lakes then fully frozen lakes and snow piled up in layers deeper than the car. It's a dramatic drive ;)

    Do it. I highly recommend it. Maybe just a bit later in the season :-)

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    Red Lodge, MT - I love this little town!
    http://www.redlodge.com/

    A motel was chosen off the internet and a low price point was a factor after the $$$ spent at Jackson Lake and Old Faithful. What a find! The Alpine Lodge -
    http://www.alpineredlodge.com/

    We weren't sure when we drove up - just an old-fashioned motor lodge on the north end of town. We opened the door to a very clean, nice room with knotty pine walls, great beds, good bedding - and a TV. :-) The first TV in a room in a long time. One room had a kitchenette and the other a sitting area. The rate was $109. The owners manage the place and offered suggestions, a hot breakfast in the morning and wonderful hospitality.

    They suggested a restaurant and it was the best one during the whole trip - The Carbon County Steakhouse -
    http://www.thepizzaco.com/steakhouse/

    The steaks were great but my seafood pasta (a special) was fabulous. We ordered mussels as an appetizer (flown in fresh that morning) and they were the best I'd ever had. Up until then, Barracuda in Nice had my top vote. Much to my surprise, a steakhouse in Montana surpassed them. The owner?/hostess Heather designed the menu and she shared her recipe and tips. I would love to go back to Red Lodge and the restaurant. I will, one day.

    The next morning we enjoyed hot pancakes before we set out for the next stop. I got out of the car to take some pics of Red Lodge, but really wish we had more time to stop and visit. Walk the little down, visit the shops. I just fell in love with Red Lodge. I know the town has another Fodors fan, and I can see why.

    Next stop = too much driving

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    We drove back down to Cody. Again, I don't really recommend our route, but the drive from Red Lodge to Cody was a pretty drive.

    Cody
    I really liked Cody. I didn't expect to. I was really surprised.

    I'd heard about the Buffalo Bill museum. I had no idea! It is wonderful! It is amazing. It is varied. No matter your interest, you're going to find something you will enjoy.

    http://www.bbhc.org/home/

    - Info about Buffalo Bill and his life and his shows

    - Through October - Splendid Heritage: Perspectives on American Indian Art - one of the most gorgeous exhibitions I've ever seen

    - Western art, including Remingtons, CM Russell - along with a recreation of Russell's log studio
    A new curator has arranged the art by theme (rather than chronologically) and it is a wonderful collection

    - Firearms - An entire wing. I didn't spend as much time in there as others, but I looked for the Hawkins. I'm a Jeremiah Johnson nut and wanted to find his Hawkin ...

    Excuse the tangent -
    first lines]
    Narrator: His name was Jeremiah Johnson, and they say he wanted to be a mountain man. The story goes that he was a man of proper wit and adventurous spirit, suited to the mountains. Nobody knows whereabouts he come from and don't seem to matter much. He was a young man and ghosty stories about the tall hills didn't scare him none. He was looking for a Hawken gun, .50 caliber or better. He settled for a .30, but damn, it was a genuine Hawken, and you couldn't go no better. Bought him a good horse, and traps, and other truck that went with being a mountain man, and said good-bye to whatever life was down there below.

    - and you can get a picture with Buffalo Bill :-)

    There were wings I never visited. The Golden Eagles returned the next day, but I'd been too long without a computer so spent the morning catching up on work stuff

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    Cody Comfort Inn -
    We stayed at the Comfort Inn. Very nice. It had been years since I'd stayed at a CI and the previous experiences weren't pleasant. I know others on the board have similar misgivings.

    Our room was lovely. Roomy, nice touches, good toiletries, beds and bedding. Wireless was supposedly available, but not in our bedding. I went to the hotel lobby the next day and had perfect signal there. Good breakfast (at the back of the gift shop building) with a good variety including hard boiled eggs.

    http://www.blairhotels.com/cicody/index.html

    The hotel is part of the Buffalo Bill Village Resort. The name is a bit of a misnomer. The Comfort Inn and the Holiday Inn share a parking lot. There are rows and rows of cabins with a bit of gravel in between for parking your car. The setting of the cabins was a bit dreary - definitely not a wilderness experience :-) There's a big western style building with a huge gift shop in the front. The CI's free breakfast room is in the back. I'm guessing the Holiday Inn guests don't have access to the breakfast. I had booked rooms at the HI when I learned we were ending the first week with no reservations in Cody. I emailed kureiff and asked if I should be concerned. Her answer was "yes", so I booked the rooms - and then called to cancel. If this was a lesson in "going with the flow" then I needed to ride the waves. As it turned out the plans changed and we were only staying one night, a weekend night so it all worked out.

    We had planned to go to the rodeo, but there were record winds and we opted out of the rodeo. Trees were blown down and there were whitecaps on small reservoirs. The wind damage was the talk of the town.

    Steakhouse - Proud Cut Saloon
    We met up with friends from home and they recommended this place. The steaks were good but they know how to do shrimp right. Some of the best shrimp I've ever tasted. Just tasted, because I ordered the steak. The place was crowded in early evening. We had reservations at 6 and ate while the shoot-out was going on up the road (shades of Jackson). Lots of tourists there. Once was enough for us.

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    Old Trail Town -
    loved this place. A collection of historical buildings moved to the original site of Cody WY (per Buffalo Bill).
    http://www.codywyomingnet.com/attractions/old_trail_town.php
    From the link above -

    Cody, Wyoming's Old Trail Town is an opportunity to see the area as our forefathers did. Many dismantled buildings have been reassembled and a collection of historical buildings and artefacts run along the Yellowstone highway creating a fascinating journey back in time. Amazing sights, such as an outlaw cabin from near the Montana border used by Kid Curry and the Sundance Kid as a hideout, make this an unforgettable collection.

    Also, the grave of the afore-mentioned Jeremiah Johnson -
    I found it interesting that a seventh-grade class was instrumental in having his remains removed from Lancaster CA to Cody in 1974. Robert Redford and Sydney Pollack attended the reburial.

    From Jeremiah Johnson to Sundance Kid... both in Cody WY

    Meeteese, WY
    We found our way to the little Western town of Meeteese WY
    It looked like a movie set for a Western
    http://www.meeteetsewy.com/index.php?page=area-history
    The little museum is not so little. It takes up most of the town's storefronts, including the contents of the closed Merchantile from across the road. It has a lot of Pitchfork Ranch items, including a wonderful clothing display downstairs. We spent a lot of time at the wonderful museum. What a find!

    Another find! The Meeteetse Choccolatier
    http://www.meeteetsechocolatier.com/
    Amazing chocolates, truffles, treats made by a working cowboy :-)
    Ladies man the counter when he's out working on the ranch, but only Tim makes the chocolates
    I loved Laduree macaroons from Paris, but I'm sending Christmas gifts from Meeteetse

    Another find, but I have to find the name of the place...
    Between the Buffalo Bill Museum and Old Town (just at the curve) we saw a small building with a sign advertising Western Collectibles.
    We wandered in and spent almost an hour with the most interesting man.
    His trade was engraving guns.
    He also collects antique Colts.
    Somehow he was talked into buying a man's hatmaking equipment.
    He taught himself to make cowboy hats.
    He also had some beautiful silver jewelry in the case.
    We left with a cowboy hat, silver bracelet and earrings...and wonderful memories talking to this unassuming but very talented man.
    I'll find his card sometime/somewhere - if anyone is interested.

    Okay, that about wraps up Cody.

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    The prettiest drive I'd never heard of - Hwy 14 out of Cody
    Given our circuitous routing, I tried to find a route that wouldn't be backtracking as we made our way to Billings via Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument

    I use a GPS and Google Maps, but I love maps. Real maps. The paper kind. And I love finding the routes with the dotted green lines that indicate scenic roads. So, with that as the carrot, we headed off east on Hwy 14 out of Cody. None of us knew what to expect.

    We drove through the little towns including Greybull. We wondered about the big parking lot of planes and the signs indicated it was the Museum of Flight and Aerial Firefighting
    http://www.roadsideamerica.com/story/14707
    If you want to wander among aging planes off all types, this may be the place for you. :-)

    We continued on and...all of a sudden, we felt we were in Sedona, AZ. Gorgeous red rock formations. Canyons. Switchbacks. Turn-offs and signs for trails and waterfalls.

    I will go back. It was an amazing "find" and one that we just drove through - on this trip anyway. Here's some info -
    http://www.milebymile.com/main/United_States/Wyoming/byway/Big_Horn_Scenic_Byway.html

    Fossils. Dinosaur tracks. Waterfall. Gorgeous scenery. What a surprise. The map indicated it was the Bighorn National Forest but didn't give any indication of what we would actually see.

    The drive continued to be a beautiful one and we finally intersected with our first interstate. We zoomed up north to Little Bighorn, and I was so glad we made the drive - just a little bit (by a few hours) out of our way.

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    Oh, Starrs, I've just looked quickly through this but plan to print it out tonight and savor it. We went to Yellowstone when I was about 3 or 4, I do recall a bear coming up to our car. I'm longing to go back and enjoy the area as an adult. This may be next year's trip! annie

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    Glad you had a great time. I always tell everyone that Mammoth isn't much. Maybe it was years ago, but it wasn't much when we were there in 08. Elk there are far better than the springs, in my opinion. I am glad you got to see Beehive go. We waited for about two hours and saw Castle Geyser go, and yes it was much better than OF(about 30 minutes and then about 30 minutes of serious steam phase). We also saw Riverside and Daisy go. Riverside is a really pretty one, arching over the river. At each of these, only a handful of people were there with us, so we felt like we had it pretty much to ourselves. We didn't get to drive the Beartooth, as there was still much snow. Maybe next time.

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    Another thing to do while in Cody is to see thee Heart Mountain internment camp. There was not much there when we went 2 yrs ago but it is a part of history that we forget at our own peril.

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    Great idea. I saw it on the map, but we didn't head that way.

    I also saw on one of the National Geographic maps (very cool, BTW) that Amelia Earhart had planned to move to the Meeteetse area after her (last) plane ride. Her possessions were already in storage. We took a pic of a monument/marker the townspeople had erected. I'll post it - when I get my pics up. Some are on my FB page but I'll post them all in Flickr soon. Well, not "all" ;)

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    Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument

    http://www.nps.gov/libi/the-indian-memorial-peace-through-unity.htm

    I'm so glad we made the detour (and what a beautiful detour it was!) to get to this place and walk around for a while. A simple place. A powerful and moving place.

    We stopped first at the visitor center and watched one of the excellent videos. We then headed up the hill to look at and read the markers and to soak up the area and try to imagine what happened. One interesting option was to dial on the cell phone to hear a commentary for each point (no charge on your cell plan). Other than that, all you hear is the silence and the wind over the rolling hills.

    I especially enjoyed the Indian Memorial Peace Through Unity monument.
    The names. The quotes. Powerful.

    "They attacked our village and we killed them all.
    What would you do if your home was attacked?
    You would stand up like a brave man and defend it.
    - Sitting Bull, Lakota 1881

    "I shall not see you (sun) go down behind the mountains tonight...I am going home today, not the way we came, but in spirit, home to my people."
    - Bloody Knife, Arikara - Lakota Guide, June 25, 1876

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    Expressways and Billings and time to rest -
    After traveling on 2 lane roads for a week it felt a bit strange to be flying down an interstate highway again - to be covering that much space in such a short amount of time. But, we were ready for the next part of the vacation to start and we were on our way via Billings.

    The GPS was pulled out and came in handy to choose a place for dinner. I looked under different cuisines and names that were recognizable were Seafood - Red Lobster, Italian - Olive Garden, Steakhouse - Longhorn. There was a vote for each of them. I was asked to break the tie. I really had no preference or opinion. Well, my preference was something fast because the day was coming to a close and I was afraid we would be chasing the sun. When a billboard showed up for Cracker Barrel I cast my vote. The driver disagreed. I said "Sorry. It's my vote. I haven't voted all week and THIS time I'm voting for a place that we can get in and out relatively fast". :-)

    It was a good choice. It was great to have veggies in volume again. I ordered shrimp but took it in a to-go box. My body wanted lots of veggies. Everyone ordered something they liked, bathroom breaks and time for the final leg of Week One. On to the Crazies!

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    Chasing the sun, getting in before dark -
    MT/WY reminded me of Paris - it gets dark a lot later than I'm used to. Sometime in mid-afternoon you get hungry, look at a watch and it's 8pm. The next time you look up, it's dusk...and then dark comes fast. Late, but fast.

    I posted on a Yellowstone thread about not pushing it too close. We came in "too close" twice in Montana and it adds unneeded stress.

    In this case, there was a lot of stress. I'm lucky enough to have access to private homes in Montana, but have never been to either before. I had the keys in my pocket, directions on my Blackberry, and the hope that everything that was going to be ready for us when we got there. So, we're coming in to the ranch at dusk. Almost dark. The GPS is telling us to go one way (with support from the back seat). I'm insisting we go the other way. One turn was wrong. I called "home" at after midnight their time. I didn't care. No answer. (The response later was "Oh,shit!") My stubborness won out and we continued on. A few miles later on a gravel road, we found the entrance. We saw a house. We rushed in for bathroom breaks. I'm walking around in astonishment. It's not ready for us. I'm shaking my head saying "Something's not right. Something's not right". It's the right place = the key worked. It's the wrong place = it's not ready for guests.

    We are frustrated, over-tired and the suggestions came to find a hotel. (Miles away). I'm just shaking my head, get in the car...and finally the fog clears. There are TWO houses here! I knew that. I was too tired to remember it. I bark the order - "Go further that way". The driver looks at me like I was crazy. "No, GO that way." We did. We turn a corner and there it waits. The other house. A wonderful, welcoming ranch house and our home for the next few days. TV. Hot tub. Lots of room. Big kitchen. Grill. More we would discover later. We unload, try to decompress and I pour a glass of wine. We're "home" in the Crazies.

    The next morning, in the sunlight, the hidden house is clearly seen from the first house. In the dark we missed it.
    The next morning, in the sunlight, the Crazies are magnificent - as are the mountains so the south that we drove through a few days before on the Beartooth Highway.

    We are in some of the most beautiful country I've ever seen.
    If you've seen "A River Runs Through It" or the "Horse Whisperer", you've seen it too.

    Rolling hills. Majestic mountains. A nesting hawk calling warnings. Cows grazing. That's it - and we need the respite.

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    We liked Cody, too, starrs. I am fascinated by early American West history, so places like Old Town fascinate me.
    I liked the Buffalo Bill Museum, too.

    One thing I remember from Cody is attending our first rodeo. My sons were young, and they let the kids go run around on the field and try to catch a pig (I think it was a pig, this was about 8 years ago). My son was wearing flip flops, and one came off, and we walked around barefoot a bit on that dirty ground. We made him wash his foot extra well that night!

    My good friend just left for a Glacier/Yellowstone trip yesterday. He would have liked to have read your report!

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    That's a great rodeo story! We had planned to go, but the winds were unbelievable. The next day we found damage everywhere we went. Trees down, parts of Old Town buildings blown off. It was rough, and then all was calm again.

    I'm going to try to get to the Glacier part of the trip soon.
    Some of the "little camera" pictures are up now on Facebook. I'll try to get some photos up for general viewing soon.

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    Starrs, I think you've outdone yourself. What an incredibly helpful and insightful trip report. I'm planning a Yellowstone and GTNP trip for July 2011 and you are helping the cause.

    Just one request. Since we head to Glacier NP in about 10 days.........I'm hoping to get some tips and pointers before then!! So get cracking!

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    Hanging around the Crazy Mountains -
    We had been going non-stop for almost a week and it was time to relax. The timing was great because our fearless driver had been getting sick for days and pretty much ran out of steam. I like down time on trips and we had a chance to relax as much as we wanted for the next few days. We were lucky enough to have a great place to relax, nowhere we HAD to be and no schedule to keep. As much as I loved seeing the three national parks, I loved these days. After eating every meal in restaurants, it was nice to have a kitchen available. I used to travel non-stop, but I've really learned to enjoy the slower days on long trips.

    We wandered into the little town of Livingston with no expectations. No plans. Not sure what we were going to find to see. The first stop was the visitors center and we picked up some brochures - and learned there was a Yellow Bus tour of Livingston. Okay. That sounds good. The tour didn't start for a couple of hours so we wandered over to the Yellowstone Gateway Museum.

    http://www.livingstonmuseums.org/assoc/default.html
    A nice little museum in an old school building. Locals had donated all kinds of interesting things and the collection kept all four of us intrigued.

    Time for the tour so we headed back to the Depot -
    http://www.livingstonmuseums.org/depot/index.html

    I had no idea that Livingston was the original gateway for Yellowstone NP. Visitors would arrive by train, and the railroad built a depot designed to impress wealthy tourists from the east. It's an amazing building - and they've done a great job with its renovation. The museum is free and is the originating point of the Yellow Bus Tour.

    Yellowstone Yellow Bus tours of Livingston - we had stumbled upon a find. One of the original yellow buses was in service to give tours of Livingston. According to our wonderful guide, Livingston has more than 400 buildings on the national register of historic places - more than NYC, Philadelphia (and I think she said) Boston combined. Now, it's a little town, so most of the town must be on the national register. :-) Our guide was a hoot! I can't remember her name but a local who returned and knew the ins and outs of Livingston. She was a great guide.

    The tour is "free" with a suggested $5 donation. Tours are at 1 and 2 pm on Thursdays through Saturdays. You ride in an open air (cover available) 1938 Yellowstone Park Bus - #437 in fact. As we are riding around town, the guide talks a bit about the restoration of the bus and then passes a binder with photos showing the restoration. Our Golden Eagles are in the front. Two men are in the middle seat. We're in the back. I'm the last person to look at the photo album...and I stop. I look at a picture. I look up. I look at another picture. I look up. I'm wondering if it really could be true, but I'm pretty sure it is. I tap the shoulder of the guy in front of me, show him a picture and ask "Is this you?". It was. He was. We had the restorer of the bus taking the tour. The guide was all atwitter! I got his autograph on my little tour map (that our guide had written). It was a little exciting - a celebrity in our midst. :-) Actually it was great fun and we really enjoyed the tour and Livingston MT. It's no surprise that so many celebrities (movie/TV) live in the area - and can live nice, quiet lives in gorgeous countryside without being bothered very much at all.

    http://thegourmetcellar.com/
    Tucked in next to the Depot is a wonderful wine and cheese shop. I had ducked in quickly to buy bottled water before the tour. They had some chips with dips out and I grabbed a chip and dipped. JUST as a put the chip in my mouth a clerk started to say something - and then stopped. And just watched. Hmmm...it seems that the dip was hot. 8 on a scale of 10 - and I don't like hot things. Ouch! We laughed, but I said they needed to give folks a warning. After the tour, I stopped back in. The samples now had signage (thank goodness) and I did a bit of quick shopping. I picked up a few bottles of their recommended wines - for us and for thank you gifts. They have a wonderful cheese selection as well and I picked up some recommended proscuitto, sliced to our liking, some Cowgirl Creamery Mt Tam, cheese straws, and assorted crackers. Yum!

    We all went to Albertson's and it was a bit strange to be in a big grocery store again. We bought plenty of fluids, fresh fruit (incredible Ranier cherries) and great steaks. A storm blew up and we left the store ducking hail. Thank goodness for a difference of just a couple of hours! Then we headed back home to enjoy the appetizers, grill the steaks and pour some wine. Steaks, shrimp (uneaten from the previous night) and fresh corn. Gorgeous views of the Crazy Mountains. It doesn't get much better than this!
    http://www.cowgirlcreamery.com/cheeses.asp

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    Still hanging around the Crazies...
    It's the end of the first week and the Golden Eagles fly home. The Billings airport is a great option IMO. On the way back from the airport we pass a ballpark...and double back. R gets out to check things out...and tomorrow is opening day! We have a plan. Minor league baseball in Montana. What a way to start the second week :-)

    http://billings.mustangs.milb.com/index.jsp?sid=t513

    Instead of sightseeing Billings, we decide to head back "home". We do make a couple of stops along the way -

    http://visitmt.com/history/Montana_the_Magazine_of_Western_History/caves.htm
    Pictograph Caves State Park - an easy walk from the parking lot to the caves to see the drawings.
    The first (of many) warning signs for rattlesnakes.
    A visitor heading downhill telling us there is a rattler on the path. Thank goodness we never saw it.
    My favorite - and least expensive - Tshirt came from their small visitor center.

    http://montanakids.com/things_to_see_and_do/state_parks/greycliff.htm
    Greycliff Prairie Dog Town State Park
    It takes just a few minutes to drive into the park (right off the expressway) and see lots of the little critters hanging out, sending warnings when cars (and camera lenses?)are too near. Yes, you'll probably see lots of prairie dogs elsewhere on your trip, but it is fun to spend a few minutes (in the car) watching a lot of them scurrying around. I'm sure that's true only for those coming from areas without prairie dogs, of course. ;)

    Back home for more relaxing, internet, TV, hot tub, soaking tub, deer in the yard and hawk still screeching above.

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    Storm stories...or how we dodged a tornado

    I'm relaxing, enjoying being still. R calls me out to watch a storm roll in. It's a doozy. A dark wall of storm moving over the hills and mountains and headed straight for us. It felt like being in a Storm story show on the Weather Channel. Nature put on a show for us. But, when it was time for the storm to hit us...nothing. Not even a drop of rain. We later walked back out and watched the dark sky continue to move.

    And then, a few minutes later the TV starts airing the coverage. A tornado has hit Billings. We are glued to the TV, watching the coverage. The poor young newscaster just didn't have the experience or words to describe what just happened. The storm that had passed right over us and dropped a tornado on Billings, caused a lot of damage and destroyed the MetraPark arena - which was the staging point in Billings' disaster plan. Thank goodness people had not been sent there, because the tornado ripped apart the place.
    http://billingsgazette.com/news/local/article_838bcdd0-7cc2-11df-8fe9-001cc4c03286.html

    We were thankful that the Golden Eagles had flown out safely. We were thankful we weren't walking around Billings sight-seeing. We were thankful that we got NOTHING - not even rain - as the storm passed over us.

    Geez. For a lot of relaxing, this sure is taking me a long time. Not much cracking going on ;)

    Fast forward -
    The ballgame. We loved the game, the prices, the camaraderie of a minor league game in a small city/big town. Especially loved putting on a sweatshirt in mid-June when the sun started to set.

    Natural Bridge State Park - we loved the drive to the park, even though the natural bridge is no longer there
    http://www.sweetgrasscounty.com/attractions/bridge1.htm

    Grand Hotel, Big Timber - we enjoyed lunch at the Grand, even though it was the worst service of the trip. The food was very good and we enjoyed being at a place that has been "serving Cattlemen, Cowboys, Sheepherders, Miners, railroad Men & Travelers Since 1890". We were told to look out for Tom Brokaw, Tom McGuane, Brent Musburger or Michael Keaton, but we didn't see any of them. Maybe we were there too early. Perhaps the celebrity sighting would have been better in the evening when the saloon was busier. :-)

    Just driving around, enjoying the scenery - we did a lot of this. In the car and on the "mule". The caretaker had dropped by to check to make sure we had everything we needed. He gave us some info and we felt better prepared and headed out to enjoy the countryside. It was interesting to confirm that even though it looked like wide open spaces, folks keep an eye out. I know it looked like we were in the middle of nowhere, but I also knew that we had eyes watching out for us and any help we needed was just a few moments away. It reminded me of apartment living in NYC - with just a little more space.

    Brad Pitt - A Fodorite really wants to know the scoop but I'm not at liberty to share. We WERE in an area where some of my favorite movies were filmed, including Robert Redford (again!) ;)
    A River Runs Through It - http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0105265/
    The Horse Whisperer - http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0119314/

    Good wine, good food, good rest... after a few days we were ready to continue on. Next stop - Glacier NP!

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    Cottonwoods and more "snow"- I just looked at my pictures and realized I forgot to mention the cottonwood trees and their "cotton".

    I knew of the trees from books like the Little House series. I knew they grew near water. I knew their seeds looked like cotton. But I had never seen the "cotton" floating on the breeze before. Well, on this trip we saw plenty of cotton blowing. It reminded me of the (real) snow we had seen just a few days before.

    I have to admit, at the ball game I watched the cotton blowing as much as I watched the game. I snapped pictures of a cotton seed getting caught in the netting - and tried to get pics of it blowing in the wind. I watched clouds of it drifting across the fields. Everyone seemed oblivious to it, but I was entranced and enchanted.

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    Thanks for the trip report, Starrs.

    Love the "out of the way" places like Meeteese and the airport. My husband the pilot is ready to add that to our already overloaded trip.
    What did you think of the Pictograph Caves State Park?

    I had forgotten about the tornado in Billings (we weren't even thinking of a trip when that hit). I'm getting ready to make calls about places to stay and will call the motel that was first on our list to see if they are OK because they seem to be located near where it hit.

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    On to Glacier NP via Great Falls -

    It's a good thing we rested because this was going to be a long day. One option would be to stay over in Great Falls - and I guess we should - but I wanted to get on to Glacier. So we headed out. I was distracted as we were leaving and we ended up on a different road than I had planned. I wanted to go on the squiggly road with the dotted green line (that designates it as a scenic road) but we ended up heading out on a different route. I relaxed and told myself that we'd seen many a pretty road so don't worry about it.

    An aside - I really wanted to see a windmill farm and had asked folks since Billings where one was. They looked at me blankly. I said I knew there was a place in the area with lots of windmills right by the road. More blank looks. Maybe they just couldn't believe I was asking the question. I should have emailed kurieff, but I just forgot. So, we are heading out and Judith Pass sounds vaguely familiar but I wasn't sure why. Judith Pass sounded pretty to me (and it really wasn't) so maybe I just remembered seeing it on the map and thinking about its name. But, all of a sudden R exclaims "Windmills! There are your windmills!" And there they were. A windmill farm! Crops of windmills planted in the rolling ground. Huge. White. Majestic. 3 blades slowly turning, generating clean power. I want a windmill back home! I'd love to go off the grid.
    http://www.newwest.net/topic/article/at_montanas_biggest_wind_farm_bat_deaths_surprise_researchers/C41/L41/

    We drove and drove. And Montana is just beautiful. I expected grandeur in Glacier, but I just fell in love with the countryside of Montana - and we weren't even on the squiggly green road. We crossed over a river and noticed the name. It was the same river that ran behind the house! In a little while that water would be "there". The thought made me smile. I read aloud from the Compass Guides about the area and realized that under the windmill farms were planted missles and thought the crops in Montana were quite unusual.

    Okay - trying to get cracking here. I had hoped to be able to meet up with kureiff but the total lack of schedule made that pretty much impossible. Our stays at the two Montana places overlapped so I wasn't sure what day we'd leave the first one to head to the second one. I WILL be back and look forward to meeting another Fodorite in person then. kurieff had given me great advice and we loved her recommendations.

    Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center -
    http://www.fs.fed.us/r1/lewisclark/lcic/
    loved it. Just LOVED it. They've done a fabulous job telling the story of their journey and it is one of the best interactive museums I've ever visited. Wonderful exhibits, beautifully curated, interesting videos. I could have stayed for hours more. But, we were racing the sun again, so we moved on to...

    CM Russell museum-
    www.cmrussell.org
    I don't think we did this justice. As we entered we were told that the studio and house would be closing soon and they suggested we see those first. Those were at the top of my list anyway, so we walked through the museum's gift shop to the back of the property and did a quick run-through of his log house studio and the two story home. I've mentioned it before, but it seemed bizarre to be in his actual studio and think that the exhibit was better at the recreation of his studio at the Buffalo Bill museum in Cody. Those thoughts seemed...disloyal somehow. But original items were in Cody and period items were now in his studio. We moved quickly to the house and quickly through the house. Once again, nicely done in period furnishings and I enjoyed seeing it. That's my cup of tea. Back to the museum and to be honest we just raced through it. We asked where the Buffalo Stampede was and zipped down floors to the back corner and walked throught the "stampede" and felt the floor move to recreate the sensation. The guidebook said it would appeal to kids, and I'm sure it would. But, as we exited, a huge photograph mounted on board created a graphic display of buffalo heads piled up in monstrous piles to be burned for things like fertizlizer...and china. China?! It never occured to me how "bone china" got its name. I immediately felt guilty. I love china and have too much and now I have a realization of what the "bone" in bone china meant. :-(

    Don't do Great Falls like we did it. Take your time. We enjoyed what we saw, but were rushing through the day. That's a shame. We should have spent the night.

    Next stop = First Peoples Buffalo Jump State Park -
    http://montanakids.com/things_to_see_and_do/state_parks/ulm.htm
    I loved Heads Smashed In Buffalo Jump in Canada and since we decided not to go into Canada on this trip, I really wanted to see this one. SO glad we did. I was totally impressed at how first class the entire set-up was. Great (small) visitor center. GREAT exhibit. The teepee was wonderful and you (and your kids) can actually go in and see close up the objects/furnishings inside. The diorama depicted the buffalo stampede beautifully. The rattlesnake on display was a little too close for comfort. They did everything well. We wandered out to the back patio and a young ranger gave an interpretative talk. She told the story of the buffalo jump, sharing details about the process and the life of the First Peoples. The two teepees on the hill represented the dog era teepee and the horse era teepee. As soon as she said that I could see the difference in size and recognized why. She was animated in sharing the setup of the stampede, told us that the first bison over the edge of the mesa were killed immediately due to the fall but the following bison had to be killed after they fell by the waiting people. She shared examples of chert, obsidian (and even petrified wood found in the area) and the uses in arrowheads and knives. She shared that she was going to be a bridesmaid in Savannah in October and was amazed that it would be warm enough to wear a strapless dress when it wasn't even warm enough to do that in Montana during the summer. She was charming, intelligent, well educated, and headed back to school for her doctorate in anthropology. What a ranger talk! :-)

    She gave directions to the top of the mesa, and we headed up. The color of the day must have been white, because only white vehicles were in the parking lot. Prairie dogs were waiting and chattering. That damn rattlesnake sign was out again, and I watched my step carefully. We walked to the edge and looked over and imagined the process of the buffalo jump. We chatted with other visitors, greeted dogs enjoying running over wide opened spaces, watched in awe as a mom carried a baby down the trail as she called Snoopy to join them. All we could think of were rattlesnakes, dogs, babies...and imagined the worse. I can handle humidity at home but those Montana rattlesnakes had me concerned :-)

    Standing at the top of the mesa was glorious. Glorious views. Glorious weather. Warm sunshine, gentle wind. A great day back on the road.

    Time to rush on. Three more hours of driving. We plug in the address in the GPS and trust it will take us the right way.

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    First night at Glacier -
    We're just trying to make good time now. Lunch that day was a drive-through (shhh!!! don't tell anyone), our first fast food of the trip. But we were on the move. As we neared Glacier we stopped for gas - and the glorious warm day and turned windy and cold again. Bring out the fleece again.

    I love imagining what a town will be like when I read the name on the map. Browning was NOT was I expected. It was the first place we'd seen in Montana that was not neat as a pin and just...pretty. We're less than an hour from our new home but we are making good time. We reach East Glacier and I'm enchanted. LOVE this tiny town. Love the town dogs walking, sitting, standing in the street. Love Mama Dog walking the sidewalks, deciding to sit for a while - IN the street. Love watching Mama Dog look up with excitement and run to greet Stella Dog - in the MIDDLE of the street. Later Stella is thirsty so she walks to the nearest mud puddle for a drink. As we left, Stella is lounging in the parking lot and gives us a noble look as if she were saying her goodbyes.

    We wander into the most likely option for dinner provisions - the Glacier Park Trading Company. http://www.eastglacierpark.info/Shops.html
    This old general store has just about everything you need, including internet access and Avis cars to rent. We stroll the food aisles looking for something to take with us and when we reach the end we are standing in front of the pizza counter. It will take 20 mintues, but pizza sounds great. So we place our order and wander the store some more. You need fudge? They've got it. You need Tshirts, souvenirs, camping/hiking equipment, socks, books, something else? They've got it. I started a pile on the counter and we kept adding to it. We walked outside for a stroll and Pizza Lady was out front rubbing Mama Dog and visiting with locals and tourists alike. We strolled down the short block - and the apple pie in the diner grabbed our attention. A slice to go. The lending library was there too. The Amtrak station across the street. Several motels and the Backpackers Inn where backpackers can rest their heads for $12/night. A pottery shop. I'm loving this town.

    Back inside to pick up the pizza, pay for the drinks and all the other stuff piled up, and we are on our way on Hwy 2 to the bottom end of Glacier NP.

    The drive is pretty through forests with peeks of railroad trestles. We're happy. The pizza is smelling good. We see the tell-tale signs of wildlife ahead - cars pulled partially off to the side. We find a good place to park and walk to the bridge...and the best photographs of the trip (I think).

    We are at Goat Lick Overlook. In front of us a gorge. This happens to be a natural salt lick. And at this time of night (still daylight but about 9pm) the goats are out. Lots of them. Walking around. Doing their goat thing. Including two precious babies. And they were precious. Lots of oohing and ahhing going on that bridge. The babies stand at the edge of the river/creek. One jumps across. The other wants to - but is afraid. False start. Another false start. Mama Goat comes up behind him - and head butts him across the water. Success! They run and play and hop and jump and walk across logs and come up under the bridge and then back to the water...and there's that same problem again. We leave before we find out if the scared baby goat gets across the water again.

    We leave because dark is coming fast. And I mean fast! Here we go again. Coming in at dark. We find the place. Turn in the drive. Find our cabin. The keys are at ready. Insert it in the lock. Nothing.

    We look at each other in disguest. I read the tag again. "Original (cabin place) keys". Try again. Nothing. Cussing. What the **** are we supposed to do? We get in the car and drive to the bigger place on the property. No car, so the folks staying there aren't there? Maybe the key will work here. Approach the front door with optimism. The lock is now a keypad. More grumblings. BUT, there is a sticky note with a telephone number. Who is THAT for? There's no cell reception here. How do we call that number? I rip the note off the door and we head back out for the closest motel to ask to borrow a phone.

    We are greeted with a "Do you need a room?" My response was "I don't know". I explain the situation, show her the sticky note and she says, "Oh, that's Tracey". She calls Tracey. Tracey tells us where to find our keys - the ones that work. She asks if we have everything we need. I have no idea - we haven't gotten in the place yet. We head back. The correct keys work. We're unloading the car and a truck drives up. Great. A man gets out and it's Tracy's husband. We chat. We're set. I mention that I can't wait to get into the hot tub. He stops. Turns arounds. Looks. And then says "There are animals out here". Gets in his truck and drives away. ???

    We re-heat the pizza. More a glass of the excellent Malbec purchased at the Gourmet Cellar. Consider our options. I decide to wait on the hot tub. But we are safe and settled in our little Glacier getaway with the sound of the river - and GNP just across the river. It's been a long but good day.

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    Boy, Starrs, you are cracking!! Great stuff, too.

    We're flying into Great Falls around 10:30 am on Sat (the 24th) and will spend the nite there. Your 2 museums are on our list. Both sound great. We have an excellent Lewis and Clark museum under the Arch here in StL so it will be interesting to compare the 2.

    We'll be heading to Glacier some time on Sun. If we don't have time for both museums on Sat, (a likely scenario?), we'll see the one we missed on Sun before heading out.

    Thanks to you, I now know there's such a thing as a buffalo jump! And that there's a state park dedicated to it. Which is why I read, read, and read a little more here on fodors before charging off like a wild buffalo on my trips..........

    Anyway, would you rate this park as a "don't miss", knowing what lies ahead in Glacier? How much time to allow? How much of a detour would it be timewise from the road to Glacier? It looks like we'd head out of Great Falls on I-15/Rt 89 and exit at Ulm Vaughn Road to hit the park. Or should we skip it and move on?

    Not sure which green squiggly line/road you were hoping to take to Glacier. I was thinking of Rt 89. Is that the one you ended up taking?

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    Thanks, dcd. You were the motivation to get writing :-)

    You can probably do the buffalo jump in about 30 minutes and it's not far off out of Great Falls. I think we stayed more like an hour, but a lot of that was talking to the ranger. Be sure to take the time to drive to the top of the mesa. There's a trail to hike from the visitor center up to the Mesa and it looks like a nice walk. But we didn't have that kind of time and you won't either.

    The Buffalo Jump is a "don't miss" for me, because I just like that kind of stuff. I'll easily cut 30 minutes off a museum stop in order to see things like this state park. Some folks could probably zip in and out in 10 minutes, but I just love learning more. And this visitor center does their stuff VERY well. I loved Heads Smashed In in Canada so much I've sent lots of folks there. They look at me like I'm crazy, but after they trip they tell me how much they enjoyed it. I understand HSI has improved their visitor center a lot since I was there years ago.

    The green squiggly scenic road I was talking about was 89 south of Great Falls. But, we did take part of 89 north of GF. We actually got on the interstate (15) and the GPS routed us over to 89 via 44 through Valier. It was a pretty route and we made good time.

    Have a blast! I can't imagine you not! :-)

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    Mountain lions?!?!?!?!


    The next morning we were up and out and ready for breakfast with the nice folks that helped up out. We drove to Glacier Haven Inn & the Healthy Haven Cafe -
    http://www.glacierhaveninn.com/

    These folks are so nice! Everything is neat as a pin. For breakfast they offer a buffet with juice, coffee, cereal, pastries, a home-made pound cake - and your choice of a cooked item, either a pancake or an omelette. I opted for protein.

    The inn/cafe is a small family run venture and they are REALLY nice folks and we felt like family. We talked a bit with some of the other customers and ended up seeing one couple all over GNP during the next two days. There's a little gift shop off the cafe and I found something I'd looked for in every gift shop so far on the trip. The last time I was at Mammoth, I bought a cute kitchen towel with a bear next to a sign that said "Please do not feed the bears". He's holding a sign that says "I am not a bear". That silly graphic just makes me laugh - and I wanted hot pads for the mountain place. At HHC I hit the jackpot! I bought a few other items as gifts for folks back home, Julie sold us tickets for the boat ride at Many Glacier and we even rented bear spray for the day. Julie brought a map of Glacier over to the table and gave us the scoop and wonderful recommendations. With folks like Julie, who needs to plan? :-)

    We didn't peek at the motel rooms but there are pictures on the website and Tracey* helps clean both their motel and the place we were staying. Our cabin was SPOTLESS so I'm sure their rooms are too. If you are looking for an alternative to places in the park, consider staying on Hwy 2 - halfway between East and West Glacier.

    Julie shared on important piece of information. Tracey's husband gave us a hint, but not the full details. The folks staying at the bigger place on our property were playing cards and looked up. Standing at the window looking IN was a mountain lion. I'm not sure I'm getting in that hot tub! R was laughing and we compared it to the Fishing Cone at Yellowstone. In years past, a fisherman could catch a fish in the lake, turn around and put the fish still on the hook into the cone and cook the fish without moving or taking the fish off the hook. We decided that soaking in the hot tub would be a similar experience for the mountain lion. Happy mountain lion! They conveniently parboil themselves BEFORE he comes by for his snack ;)

    The mountain lion sighting helped convince us to rent the bear spray. Before breakfast I had strolled to the river to take pictures and had a feeling that I was being watched. At least now, we'd have something to slow "it" down, whatever "it" happened to be.

    *Tracey's name has been changed for privacy reasons.

    Now off to Glacier - finally!

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    Great report. It would've been great to meet up, but you had a lot of ground to cover in one day!

    dcd, I think part of the charm of the Lewis & Clark Interpretive Center in Great Falls is that it sits right on the Missouri just a mile or so below the falls that Lewis and Clark portaged around. It's not a huge museum, but it's in an excellent location! :)

    Starrs, the wind farm at Judith Gap is pretty amazing, isn't it? The land is owned by a Hutterite Colony and the air space is leased to a wind company. Wind has become big business in MT, but our infrastructure and grid are so small and antiquated that it has been difficult to get more wind farms built. We need a new line and larger grid before any more large scale wind farms can be built.

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    No problem. The outstanding trip reports, like yours, are very labor intensive. It's uber-nice that you do them.

    Besides, I haven't started to pack yet.............so you still have time!!

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    topping with a note for Yellowstone drive times
    From July 1st posts -

    Breakfast at Flagg Ranch south of Yellowtone
    Lunch at Canyon
    Afternoon stop at Mammoth
    Dinner at Old Faithful
    stopping at almost every stop along the way

    The afternoon would be spent driving from Canyon to Mammoth and back down to Old Faithful. Not a lot of stops along the way, but we didn't get to Old Faithful until after 6. (I promise I'll find the map with the actual times on it).

    Now, Mammoth was my #1 wish list item.
    I can't tell you how disappointed I was.
    Mammoth Hot Springs was dead.
    Nada. Nothing. Nothing at all flowing.
    The Pickles had just been there and had a completely different experience.
    I love Mammoth. In years past, I would drive into the park from Island Park, Idaho and spend hours at Mammoth.
    I could not believe how dead/dry/lifeless the springs were.

    We stopped in town first (for bathroom breaks), walked into the lobby of the hotel, visited the visitor center (which I enjoyed very much), smiled and pointed at the elk hanging out in town (because of the watered grass) and then I guided us to a parking lot in the middle of the hill.

    We arrived at Minerva Terrace - and nothing. No water. No steam. No color. No "life" at all. I found it very, very sad.
    Here's a youtube link to what it usually looks like -
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lqaduXkPPqk

    We walked up further and all four of us were discouraged. Three were wondering why the heck I wanted to stop here. We were about to turn back when I asked someone and there was some flow further up "just past that tree". We all continued on...and there was a trickle of water coming down and a tiny bit of color. I knew that the features were constantly changing, but never expected that dramatic a change.

    Back in the car on the way to Old Faithful -

    Traffic slowed down just past the sign for the Grizzly Lake trail. A woman was walking past the parked cars, and if she were a ranger she was off duty. A grizzly was up on the hillside. Thanks to my magic camera I got some good shots.

    When it was time for another rest room stop, we stopped at the ranger museum -
    http://ypf.convio.net/site/News2?page=NewsArticle&id=5205
    I was told it was a decent restroom for an "outpost" restroom.
    I loved the tiny Museum of the National Park Ranger. It took less than 5 minutes to walk through.
    From the parking lot we saw a regal buffalo resting creekside.
    A little bit further down we saw a mama buffalo with her baby.

    And then, before we got to Old Faithful we found the Summer Construction Zone. The wait was 20 minutes (in both directions - that afternoon and the next morning). You turn off your car with windows rolled down and enjoy the scenery (and hopefully the company inside the car) as you wait.

    Finally, at 6:30 - the Old Faithful Inn!

    2 + 22 + 21 + 16 miles = breakfast to lunch
    12 + 21 + 21 + 14 +16 miles = lunch to dinner
    with a few stops along the way
    About 3/4 of the figure eight of Yellowstone roads
    Schedule more time if you want to actually get out and do some hiking in the park

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