Road’s End Workshop, with Paige and Corey: Travel Log No. 5

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When we finally hit the wide open fields of Big Sky Country, my husband and I both felt the excitement. We had traveled to California, Colorado, and the Pacific Northwest, but this was new territory for us. Corey’s affinity for Theodore Roosevelt only added to his excitement, and we started our adventure through Montana.

Glacier National Park

We all have a bucket list, whether we admit it or not. Mine is mostly full of places to which I’d love to travel. High on my list was Glacier National Park, and we were finally  going there, after so many years of travel and longing to see it. We stayed just outside West Glacier and camped in a spot that allowed us 14 days of free boondocking. This gave us the time we needed to recharge, get work done, host a workshop, and explore the park.

One of our first stops was the beautiful Lake McDonald. The clear waters, colorful rocks and towering peaks reflected perfectly what I had imagined all these years. We happened to be visiting close to the end of tourist season and we found pull-offs along the lake easily that gave us some privacy and a trail down to the water’s edge. We were gifted different perspectives, dependent on what random parking spot we claimed along the main road. Every view was beautiful and differed due the position of the mountains and the shape of the lake as it slowly tapered to the McDonald Creek, which feeds the crystal-clear lake.

Pro Tip: This park is diverse and you could find ways to use every lens in your camera bag. The wider the angle, the more expansive the landscape shots can be. However, a telephoto lens will help compress space and make the towering peaks even more impressive. There’s also tons of wildlife in the Montana and Wyoming area, so having a longer lens could afford you unique opportunities for wildlife photos.

Going to The Sun Road is undoubtedly one of the better-known roads in the park system. It hugs the wall of the Rockies as it climbs to an elevation of 6,646 feet, and connects the western side of the park to the eastern (this is only open during certain times of the year). The views are out of this world.

At Logan Pass, you can access multiple hikes with drastically different views. You can hike the Highline Trail along the mountain’s ridge, and see things like the Garden Wall. Or, situated behind the Logan Pass Visitor Center is the trail to Hidden Lake. The trail is really more like an incredible set of stairs, so warm up your leg muscles and don’t forget bear spray! We were stopped about halfway through our staircase adventure due to bear activity and low visibility. We embraced the moving cloud structure and stayed far away, photographing the area until we could no longer see each other.

When the weather began cooperating again, we woke up for a sunrise hike to Avalanche Lake via the Trail of Cedars. The hike was 5.7 miles round trip, ascending and descending at a manageable rate. It seemed quite popular for all ages and abilities, but we were lucky to have a bit of privacy in the early hours of the morning. The view at the end of the trail is humbling, and we were given the opportunity to sit, listen to the wind, and watch morning fog rise from the trees.

A quick day trip for us from our Glacier campground was down to the National Bison Range. Established in 1908, it’s one of the oldest wildlife refuges in the country, and only a couple of hours from Glacier. During warmer months, the entire Red Sleep Mountain one-way loop road is open to vehicles, allowing up-close encounters with these awesome creatures. The 12-mile unpaved gravel road was easy for our truck, but I recommend 4-wheel-drive and decent clearance.

Travel Tip: Montana and Wyoming are known for their bear sightings, so always have a can of bear spray with you. Try to hike in a group of at least three and be aware of your surroundings! Read more about bear safety here.

Yellowstone National Park

We only had a few days to see Yellowstone and Grand Teton, so we did our best to make the most of our time. Luckily, the weather was working with us, so we made sunrise and sunset every day in Yellowstone. The park is laid out primarily in a figure-8 pattern. You can focus on the top section, or the bottom section, and really get lost for a couple of days. Being the first National Park, the history was all encompassing and we tried to soak up as much of it as we could. 

We stayed just north of Yellowstone in a town called Gardiner. We could see the Mammoth Hot Springs from our Airstream, and the town offered us easy access for coffee in the morning and a hot meal after leaving the park at sundown. We recommend dinner at the Antler Pub & Grill if you happen to be stopping. It’s on the same side of the park as the Roosevelt Arch, and if you look closely, you’ll find the stone that Theodore Roosevelt laid himself. It sits on a corner, closest to the road, and is engraved with the date April 24, 1903.

We chose to enter through Gardiner and use the northern-most entrance because it was less crowded and allowed us to avoid lines going in and out of the park every day. I say that as though we weren’t awake and already adventuring before the sunrise. If you make it out early enough, you’ll leave the sleeping tourists behind and have a better chance of seeing wildlife.

Our first stop was sunset in Lamar Valley; the limited part of the park I had already seen. The last and only time I had visited Yellowstone was in the heart of winter. The majority of the park closes for safety, but you can still venture through Lamar Valley and get an up-close look at snow-covered bison. The twisting roads of the valley give way to expansive views, low-hanging fog, and herds of bison, brought back from near extinction. Drive slowly and enjoy your time with the wildlife.

Travel Tip: When you see wildlife on the road or actively close to traffic, stay in your vehicle! The safest and most tactful way to photograph wildlife in the street is through a sunroof, so make sure your rental car has one... and good insurance! The bison have been known to charge or stampede!

We decided to travel to the bottom half of the figure-8 and experience Old Faithful in the early hours of the morning. Knowing this was the greatest tourist attraction, we planned accordingly. From Gardiner, the drive took almost two hours and we made it just as the sun was cresting over the horizon. Beginning at sunrise, the businesses surrounding Old Faithful (the Inn, Cafe, Visitor Center, etc.) begin posting the times and predictions for the upcoming geyser eruptions. Typically, Old Faithful goes off every 2 hours, with variances. Even though we arrived at 7:00 a.m., we had another hour to wait to see the eruption. As 8:00 a.m. approached, very few people had joined us on the wooden deck and it felt like we saw Old Faithful by ourselves in the early morning light.

As more tourists hurried in and found a seat in preparation for the next eruption, we decided to venture through Geyser Hill, one of my favorite locations inside the park. It’s a stone’s throw from Old Faithful and even gives alternative perspectives for when it goes off, but the boardwalk also allows you up-close access to more than 30 thermal pools, springs, and geysers. Please take extra care here and be sure to stay on the boardwalk, because the ground beneath you is thin, fragile and potentially deadly! That didn’t stop us from walking through the thick steam and holding our breath in the more odiferous areas. Before we left the area, we were able to catch Old Faithful one last time from another location on the deck, but we encourage you to view it from as many places as you can, including the lesser-known upper vantage points that require a hike!

We continued exploring the bottom half of the park, knowing what a distance it was from our camp. We made time to see Yellowstone Lake and hike through the West Thumb area. This location is unique due to its proximity to the large body of water—Yellowstone Lake. As you walk along the winding boardwalk, you see thermal pools and geysers scattered throughout the landscape, including on the lake’s edge. We finished this day with a tour at the Museum of the National Park Ranger.

The next morning, we woke up early and started our hunt for Bobby-sock trees. These dead lodgepole pines get their look from absorbing the mineral rich water provided by the surrounding thermal features, and create an ominous backdrop through the steam and fog. This was fun because it encouraged us to hike to random locations and drive down roads we might not have taken before, but eventually we found the trees we were looking for and the scene did not disappoint.

We drove up to the Grand Prismatic Spring and walked the edge of the 370-ftoot-wide thermal pool. Grand Prismatic is the largest hot spring in the United States and the third largest in the world. The air was so cold and the spring is so hot, the steam made it virtually impossible to see the vibrant colors that make this spot so well known. If we had the opportunity, we would have taken a helicopter tour to see this spot correctly. And though the shooting conditions were not ideal, we still felt the power of these Springs and felt honored to stand in their presence.

Grand Teton National Park

The drive between Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Park was comically easy. We even found a free campsite between the two. The drive itself isn’t much longer than 30 miles, yet the landscapes change drastically. Instead of steam jetting into the air and towering above, the 13,776-foot peak of the Grand Teton Range welcomes and amazes you. These mountains are truly awe-inspiring and a must-see for any avid traveler. The park also offers many campsites, so we found a spot with the view of Teton range, and camped for a couple days.

Almost anywhere you go in the park, there will be some sort of stunning view, especially since the park is laid out parallel to the mountain range. The main highway, 191, runs its course through the park and provides numerous pull-offs and vantage points. Our first excursion was around Jenny Lake. This spot is known for its frequent bear and moose activity, and many of the trails were closed due to grizzly sightings. We were still able to walk around the lake and find mirrored reflections of the towering peaks. I also recommend Snake River Overlook for any photo nerd! This is the famous spot from which Ansel Adams stood and photographed the park, in 1942. I tried to line up the exact shot, but new barriers exist and time has shifted the landscape slightly and given way to dense foliage... but I made the effort and it was a humbling moment.

You can’t explore Grand Teton without driving through Mormon Row. Made famous by the stoic twin barns, this spot is rich in history and provides and iconic view of the park. Brothers John and Thomas Alma (T.A.) Molton built their homesteads and barns on this plot of land, in the early 1900s. This area is open to roaming bison, and if you time your visit correctly, you can watch the sun rise or set in the valley and cast beautiful light over the barn, the Tetons, and the wildlife.

Though we camped in the park, we made our way into town almost every day. This is how we get work done, buy groceries, and have some semblance of normalcy when traveling on the road full time. Jackson was the perfect place to take breaks from the park and ensure our weekly tasks were done. We started our mornings at Persephone Bakery, sat on our computers and drank coffee at Cowboy Coffee, got brunch at The Bunnery, and finished our days with a burger and beer from Liberty Burger—all of which I highly recommend! The downtown area of Jackson was liberating, full of small businesses and thriving tourism mixed with welcoming locals.

 

Our last stop out west was Granite Hot Spring. This spot was a total gem. The road leading up to it had free campsites, each with its own fire pit, and easy access to the river. We spent the heat of the day playing with the dog in the Granite Creek and saw sunsets as we hiked along the water’s edge. If you venture to the end of the road, you’ll find Granite Hot Spring, a developed concrete pool, heated from thermal activity. And though we won’t give away the exact location, there’s a hidden hot spring in the river! Friendly heads up... this area is also open to free-range cattle! We woke up one morning surrounded by cows and calves. One even found the Airstream jack and used it as a scratching post for her neck, shaking our entire trailer!

Have questions? We have answers!

We’ll be taking questions over the next couple of months and addressing them in a special blog post! Send us your question at this link and check back to see if your inquiry has been selected for our blog post!

And be sure to check back every month for a new episode of the Road’s End Workshop, with Paige and Corey!

1 Comments

What? No backcountry hiking? You were in my neck of the woods. My thing is to pack a camera with a wide angle zoom lens, sandwich and water and treats for the doggie, get on my snowshoes and beat feet out the back door. Come back soon.

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