Honeymoon Roadtrip, Day 8: Arriving at Glacier

Sunday, June 8: our first full day in Montana

We began our morning with breakfast at Cat Eye Cafe, and highly enjoyed their cat-themed decor and delicious food. Then it was time to say goodbye to Bozeman and we got started on the long drive to Glacier. After a stop in Columbia Falls for groceries and Whitefish for lunch, we reached the cabin we were renting for our stay in northern Montana. The cabin was part of an original homestead, completely refurbished to make for a charming vacation home.

diamond doll in Glacier

diamond doll in Glacier

After settling in, we drove into Glacier National Park to get an early peek of where we’d be spending the most of our next several days. We stopped at McDonald Lodge to enjoy the view and visit the gift shop. Like we would discover in most of northern Montana, the shop was full of huckleberry-flavored treats.

us at Lake McDonald

us at Lake McDonald

Lake McDonald Lodge

Lake McDonald Lodge

Since we were visiting early in the season, the famous Going-to-the-Sun Road wasn’t fully open yet. It would take several more weeks for crew to finish clearing the snow from the higher passes. We drove the 16 miles that was open, up to Avalanche Lake.

scenic view along the Going-to-the-Sun Road

scenic view along the Going-to-the-Sun Road

On our way out of the park, we stopped to get information on boating permits for our two kayaks and talked to a friendly ranger about the various lakes within the park that would be good for kayaking. He confirmed that our choice of Upper Kintla Lake would be a good one, and we became even more excited for our first full day in the park.

We headed back to the cabin where Kurt grilled up a delicious meal of salmon and corn on the cob, paired with some local beers including the Great Northern Brewery’s Wild Huckleberry Wheat. The sky stayed light until 10:30 pm, as we were far north and near the western edge of the Mountain time zone. Our first night in our little cabin was cozy and peaceful.

our perfect little honeymoon cabin

our perfect little honeymoon cabin

 

Advertisements
Categories: diamond doll, fun trip, honeymoon, on the road, the great outdoors | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

Honeymoon Roadtrip Day 7: On to Montana

Saturday, June 7: goodbye to Yellowstone

“There’s a bison right outside the tent,” Kurt whispered to me as I slowly woke up around 6 am on our last morning in Yellowstone. Sure enough, I could hear its breathing and heavy shuffling footsteps just a few feet away. We could even smell it. We stayed quiet and still, and it moved on. However, a second bison was right behind him, and this one was much more agitated about our tent being on his turf. We could hear him huffing and grunting at us as a warning. “Would a bison ever charge a tent?” Kurt whispered. I shrugged, freaking out, but gestured to remain quiet. The huffs grew louder and angrier, and we could tell that the bison was directly next to the tent. After about 30 seconds (but felt much longer), it finally relented, realizing that the tent was not going to move. We heard his footsteps move away and breathed a huge sigh of relief. Kurt unzipped the top part of the tent door to check and see how far the bison had moved along.

our morning visitor

our morning visitor

Once the bison had gotten further down the valley, we finally were able to move around and make noise. It was time to head back to the car, so we packed up camp, had an easy breakfast of oatmeal bars and jerky, then began our hike back to the trailhead. Luckily, this time when we reached the top of the ridge there were no bison in sight, so we were able to stay on the trail. Along the way, we saw some clear wolf tracks in the mud, fresh since the previous night’s rainstorm.

The return hike went much faster, as we didn’t run into any more bison herds. The only detour we needed to take was near the end of the hike, when a single bison had wandered close to the trail. At that point we had run into a day hiker from Cody, so we followed him when he took a wide berth around the grazing animal. In the distance, we could see the herd returning to the meadow, climbing up a steep ridge. It was amazing how easily such large, bulky creatures could climb the steep drop. Pronghorns were grazing nearby, coexisting peacefully with the bison.  We reached the road and our car, and were grateful to be done with our heavy packs. As we snacked on some granola bars and put our things away in the, we saw a fox running alongside the road.

happy campers

happy campers

P1050816

fantastic Mr. Fox

It was bittersweet to leave Yellowstone, as we were excited for Glacier but had had such an amazing time in Wyoming. We made one last stop at Mammoth Hot Springs and loaded up on hot drinks and souvenirs. There were elk wandering around all over the area, which was surprising considering that it was such a heavily (human) populated area with shops, restaurants, and lodges.

elk on the lawn

elk on the lawn

We drove out the north exit, finally on our way to Montana.

entering Montana

entering Montana

Within a few hours we reached Bozeman. After a quick errand at the Bozeman REI, we enjoyed a late lunch and some local beers at the Soup Shack downtown, then checked into our motel. After taking the best hot shower after, we spent the rest of the evening take care of a few more errands–namely, laundry. The rest of the night was spent relaxing on actual beds for the first time in a week, watching some TV while drinking a bottle of wine left over from the wedding, and poring over Montana guidebooks in preparation for Glacier.

Wildlife sightings: bison, pronghorns, fox, wolf prints
New state visited: Montana

Categories: fun trip, honeymoon, on the road, the great outdoors | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

Honeymoon Roadtrip Day 6: Hiking in the Backcountry

Friday, June 6: more hiking and exploring in Yellowstone backcountry

Our first night in the backcountry was the coldest night we’d had yet. The tent finally began to warm when the sun came up. We took our time getting up and making breakfast (oatmeal), then cleaning our dishes and stringing everything back up. After a relaxing morning, we were ready to take a day hike to further explore the area.

hanging our food out of bears' reach

hanging our food out of bears’ reach

From our campsite, we could smell sulfur from the nearby spring when the wind picked up. We decided to hike towards Wahb Spring and Death Gulch to check out the thermal activity. The trail took us back up the ridge, where we immediately encountered bison. At this point we were old pros at navigating around them, so we veered off trail at a safe distance until we were clear of them. The trail ran up and down several small hills and over bubbling creeks, then through a wooded area. As we lost our easy sight lines, we started to make more noise by shouting and clapping so we wouldn’t surprise any bears. At one point, our noisiness caused a moose to suddenly leap to his feet and take off down the mountain. Finally, we had proof that our tactics were working.

gone hikin'

gone hikin’

During our hike, we encountered lots of downed, burned trees from the last great fire in the 1980’s. Lots of new growth was springing up as well. After a few miles, we turned back to head to camp. On our way, we got a good view of Mt. Norris.

Back at camp, we had lunch and watched more deer cross the river. Our timing ended up being perfect because as we were putting away our supplies, a heavy rain rolled in. We spent the next few hours chilling out in the tent reading (me with my Kindle, Kurt with our Glacier guidebooks). The weather cleared up in time for dinner, so we sat by the campfire and split a bag of beef stroganoff, my personal favorite dehydrated meal. As dusk settled, deer continued to cross at the river and climb the ridge near our site, giving us a perfect view for wildlife watching.

our teeny tiny tent

our teeny tiny tent

deer at the river

deer at the river

On our second night, we were better prepared for the cold. We zipped our sleeping bags together and piled on the layers. This time, we stayed much warmer and got a better night’s sleep. However, we woke up the next morning to quite a surprise…

our cozy little tent

our cozy little tent

Wildlife sightings: moose, bison, mule deer

Categories: fun trip, honeymoon, on the road, the great outdoors | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

Honeymoon Roadtrip, Day 5: Yellowstone Backcountry

Thursday, June 5: hiking in Lamar River Valley

We packed up our backpacks with the clothes, food, and supplies we would need for the next two days and nights, and then put everything else in the car. It was time for our backcountry excursion, the few days of our trip of which I was the most excited about and also the most nervous. We had picked Lamar River Valley because it was known for being a great spot to see wildlife; luckily, the day before when we picked up our backcountry permit, the ranger had said that they hadn’t had any reports of bear activity in the area recently. Still, I knew that we would have to be extremely careful of wildlife encounters. It turned out that bears weren’t the ones we had to worry about.

ready to begin our hike

ready to begin our hike

We parked our car at the trailhead with our permit number displayed in the windshield, locked it up, put on our heavy packs, and said goodbye to civilization. Our hike up to the campsite wasn’t especially challenging (about 4 miles), but wearing a loaded backpack definitely takes its toll. We kept our water bottles and bear spray in our easy-to-access side pockets. The hike took us through an open meadow then behind a large ridge, where the road disappeared from sight. Almost immediately, we spotted pronghorns and bison grazing in the grass. It was a beautiful day, warm and sunny in the high 60’s.

hiking the trail

hiking the trail

When we turned the corner and climbed the trail up through a narrow passage flanked by some trees and creek to the beginning of the ridge, we made a startling discovery: there were bison EVERYWHERE. All over the trail, up the hill, down the valley, and closing in behind us. Though bison appear docile, they are known to be aggressive and will charge and gore humans who come too close. Many of the female bison had young calves at their side, so they were going to be especially protective and wary of intruders on their turf. We knew that we were to keep at least 25 yard away, but there was absolutely nowhere for us to go. This meant that we had to either take a detour around them (which was pretty much impossible as they were as far as the eye could see in all directions), or wait for them to move along off the trail. So we took of our packs, sat, and waited.

bison on the trail

bison on the trail

The herd had noticed us, and an inquisitive bison took a few steps toward us. We looked behind us for an exit, but more bison had moved up the ridge. Two males were engaged in a fight, smashing into each other’s large skulls while brandishing their horns. We were completely surrounded. The narrow entrance we had taken into the meadow was blocked by bison. While some of the animals meandered up or down the hill, you could tell that the herd had no plans to go anywhere anytime soon. Our only choice was to somehow pass through the herd.

bison and nursing calf

bison and nursing calf

My heart was pounding as we very slowly put our packs back on. We moved carefully and quietly, trying not to call any attention to ourselves or appear threatening. We had waited until a moment that the path was clear enough that we could mostly shoot straight through the center of the meadow to meet back up with the trail. When we noticed a bison or calf wander close to our route, we would pause and wait. We kept our eyes lowered, avoiding eye contact, and talked to each other softly in calm voices. The walk through the herd was about 75 yards and felt like it took an infinity. Finally, we reach the edge of the herd and got back onto the trail. A lone bison wandered right behind us, watching and huffing as if to say “and don’t come back now, y’hear?” We heard, loud and clear.

Luckily, the rest of the hike was uneventful. We walked over some gentle rolling hills, but for the most part the trail was pretty level and we had a clear eye line in every direction. The trail reached the end of the ridge, and we descended down into the valley, stepping carefully to maintain balance with our heavy packs on the steep footing. We reached the river and walked alongside it until we found our campsite, designated by a small marker and a fire ring made of large rocks next to a pole for hanging up our food away from bears.

our backcountry campsite

our backcountry campsite

We enjoyed a few minutes of rest without heavy packs, then got to work setting up our campsite. After selecting a good spot to sleep 100 yards away from our cooking area, I set up the tent and laid out the sleeping bags while Kurt gathered fallen twigs and sticks to make a small fire. Our little site was in the middle of heaven, with mountains framing the gorgeous backdrop all around us. As sunset approached, mule deer wandered down the ridge or crossed the river near our site, which appeared to be a popular animal crossing. The bison weren’t done with us yet; a group of four walked up to our site, stopping about 30 yards away and gazing at us curiously. Two of them inspected our tent while one gave us a good lookover. Eventually, they continued on their way. As the sun set, we enjoyed a bota box of wine and scoured the horizon for more animals with our binoculars. When the sky was too dark, we strung up our food and supplies and went back to the tent to enjoy our first night’s sleep out in the true wilderness.

Wildlife sighted: so many bison, elk, pronghorns, mule deer

Categories: fun trip, honeymoon, on the road, the great outdoors | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

Honeymoon Roadtrip, Day 5: Exploring Yellowstone

Wednesday, June 4: sights of the Grand Loop

On our first full day in Yellowstone, we had a lot of must-sees on our list. After a quick breakfast at the cafeteria to save us time (noticing a pattern yet?), we started out on the Grand Loop, making our first stop at Tower Falls. From there, we headed towards Lamar River Valley to get an idea of where we’d be doing our backcountry camping the next day. Then, we circled back down to the southwest side of the park to see Old Faithful, the geothermal pools, and Old Faithful Lodge.

diamond doll at Old Faithful

diamond doll at Old Faithful

thar she blows

thar she blows

relaxing at Old Faithful Lodge

relaxing at Old Faithful Lodge

P1050233

Grand Prismatic Spring selfie

As we drove around the park, we made numerous stops to view wildlife. It was easy to look for the tell-tale sign of several cars pulled over, with people looking through binoculars or camera lenses and pointing into the wilderness. We got a very close look at an elk chilling out beneath a tree only 25 yards away from gawking tourists (and a park ranger making sure we kept a safe distance).

elk just chillin'

elk just chillin’

As it grew close to sunset, we made our last sightseeing stop at the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone. Not far from our lookout point, an osprey was engaged in an ongoing battle with a raven while its mate sat on their nest, protecting their eggs. A small group of us watched, trading off binoculars and watching some Planet Earth-style action go down. We drove up to Inspiration Point to get a truly breathtaking view of the canyon.

Yellowstone Falls

Yellowstone Falls

Wildlife sightings: badger, swan, elk, pronghorns, ospreys, raven, mule deer, bison
Landmarks visited: Old Faithful, tons of geothermal pools and hot springs, Grand Prismatic Spring, Tower Falls, Firehole Falls, Grand Canyon of Yellowstone, Yellowstone Falls

 

Categories: diamond doll, fun trip, honeymoon, on the road, the great outdoors | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

Honeymoon Roadtrip, Day 4: Yellowstone

Tuesday, June 3: From South Dakota to Wyoming

We got up early and hit the road, opting to pick up breakfast on the way instead of taking time in the morning to cook. We got coffee and tea at the Bank Coffee House in Custer, a really cool little coffee shop that used to be an old bank, complete with vault doors. Though it was out of the way, we had planned to make a stop at Devil’s Tower. While we were driving on a 2-lane highway, we saw a truck come around a turn with a white flag waving out the driver side window. We weren’t sure what it meant, so we slowed down. As soon as we went around the turn, we learned quickly; several cowboys were driving a herd of cattle up the road.

cowboy

cowboy

Since we still had a long drive ahead of us, our stop at Devil’s Tower was pretty quick. We took several pictures, filled up on gas and snacks, and got back on track.

Devil's Tower selfie

Devil’s Tower selfie

close encounters!

close encounters!

Our last stop was in Cody, Wyoming, to pick up groceries, beer, and bear spray, as we were now entering bear country. The woman at the grocery store warned us to not leave the spray in our car because the can could explode in the heat, and that is one car you’ll never get into again.

We finally arrived in Yellowstone around 7:30 pm. Almost immediately, we encountered bighorn sheep hanging out on a ledge near the road.

bighorn sheep

bighorn sheep

As we drove into the park towards our reserved site at Canyon Campground, we quickly learned that when you saw other cars pulled off to the side of the road, there must be wildlife nearby. If there was something close enough to be photographed, a crowd of people would be standing on the shoulder with cameras out like they were TMZ paparazzi. Within our first hour in the park, we saw pronghorns, bison, elk, and two black bears–one from a distance using binoculars, and the second fairly close to the road where several people watched from safely inside their cars. Almost immediately, a ranger pulled up in his truck and stepped out to investigate, brandishing bear spray in case of an emergency, but the bear had come and gone quickly. Kurt got a good look, but I only saw its butt as it retreated into the woods.

elk

elk

Having just seen two bears made it slightly unnerving to set up our tent outside, especially after the ranger who checked us in warned us that bears had been seen near the campgrounds recently, so we should be sure to leave all food and drinks in the car. “The only things that go in your tent are you and your sleeping bags,” she said. The campgrounds were quite nice, with a nearby restroom, bear-proof recycling, and an indoor dishwashing station.

our Yellowstone campsite

our Yellowstone campsite

Since we had rolled in so late, we ate dinner in the lodge and enjoyed a cold beer. Afterward, we made a nice warm fire at our site, as the temperature had dropped to make it the coldest night yet of our trip. We slept warm and cozy in our tent with the bear spray close by our side.

Wildlife sightings: elk, bison, two black beers, pronghorns, bighorn sheep

Categories: fun trip, honeymoon, on the road, the great outdoors | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

Honeymoon Roadtrip, Day 3: the Black Hills

Monday, June 2: Mt. Rushmore, Black Hills National Forest

In the morning, we attempted another hike into Badlands backcountry near Prairie Dog Town, but were quickly defeated by the muddy conditions. Bison were plentiful on the road, crossing from one plain to the next. We watched them cross the street from inside our car; one curious bison walked right up to us and gave the hood of the Subaru a good sniff.

IMG_3103

bison surround our car

P1040762

more bison on the road

After saying goodbye to the Badlands, we headed to Mt. Rushmore. As expected, there were plenty of crowds out on the perfect sunny day. Unexpectedly, we learned that you can buy a “Red Rally Racer” at the concession stands, which is a cherry slushie with a shot of vodka or tequila. God bless American, indeed.

P1040793

Mt. Rushmore

P1040783

diamond doll

After leaving Rushmore, we took a scenic drive through Black Hills National Forest and Custer State Park. On a wildlife viewing loop in Custer, we saw bison galore, pronghorns, elk, and mule deer.

P1040846

pronghorns

We set up camp at the Bismarck Lake campground and kicked back with a bottle of wine while reading our guidebooks. Overnight, some loud thunderstorms rolled through, but our little tent held up like a champ. Next stop: Yellowstone!

P1040850

our Black Hills campsite

 

Sites visited: Mt. Rushmore, Custer State Park, Black Hills National Forest
Wildlife sightings: bison and calves, pronghorns, elk, mule deer, wild turkeys

Categories: diamond doll, fun trip, honeymoon, on the road, the great outdoors | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

Honeymoon Roadtrip, Day 2: Exploring the Badlands

Sunday, June 1: Our first full day

We woke up and cooked a breakfast of scrambled eggs with sausage and veggies using a pan and Jetboil on our front porch. In the light of day, we saw that ours was the third Subaru Forester in a row on our block of cabins. After breakfast we checked out of our cabin and began to explore the park. There were several short hikes that we completed, including one known for its spectacular view that came with a warning “not for those afraid of heights.”

P1040589

Yikes!

I am pretty acrophobic, but I gave it a shot and climbed the ladder that took us to the next part of the trail. The view was indeed fantastic, which I enjoyed a nice and safe full 5 feet away from the edge.

P1040574

Kurt is braver than I am when it comes to heights

After we finished hiking, we left the park to check out Wall Drug (where we purchased the mounted jackalope head I’ve always wanted because I am a weirdo) and tried to see the Minuteman Missile Site, which was sadly and inexplicably closed. On the way back, we drove the Badlands Scenic Loop, keeping an eye out for bison. Sure enough, we spotted their distinctive shapes dotting the green meadows. Once we got to the primitive campground at Sage Creek, we saw a few more hanging out about 200 yards away on a hill, grazing calmly. The forecast called for rain, so we quickly set up our tent and cracked open a few local beers we had picked up at the grocery store in Sioux Falls. After a brief rain passed, Kurt and I got in one more quick hike towards the river, coming across yet another bison on the way. It was our closest view of one yet, and their size was impressive. Though they seem pretty chill, they can be aggressive and do serious damage with their horns, so we kept a respectable distance. The wet ground acted like clay, clumping to our boots with each step. It made it difficult to hike very far, so we headed back to camp to clean ourselves up and relax before night fell.

our first campsite of the trip

our first campsite of the trip

As the sun went down, other hikers staying at the campgrounds slowly returned from their explorations. A neighboring camper remarked that he had heard coyotes yipping at him. Sure enough, as we slept in our tents that night we could hear the howls and yips of the pack.

P1040609

diamond doll at the Badlands

Sites visited: Wall Drug, Minuteman Missile Site
Wildlife sightings: bison, bighorn sheep, jackalope (heh), coyotes (heard only)

Categories: diamond doll, fun trip, honeymoon, on the road, the great outdoors | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

Honeymoon Roadtrip, Day 1: the Badlands

Saturday, May 31, 2014: we hit the road 

photo 1

packing up the Subaru

Kurt and I set the alarm bright and early for 5 am to get a head start on our longest day of driving (12 hours total). After saying goodbye to our dog River and my parents (who cared for her during our 2-week trip), we left their house in the Chicago suburbs and set out for South Dakota. The drive was mostly uneventful, though we did have to make a few stops to refasten one of the kayaks to the roof of our car. The high winds on the road pushed and pulled on the kayaks enough to crack one of the brackets on our roof rack, which we tightened back in place with heavy duty straps. Finally, we got the kayaks secure and were able to finish the drive.

photo 2

we arrive!

We arrived at Badlands National Park a little after 8 pm local time. Almost immediately, we saw several female bighorn sheep cross the road in front of our car and shoot up the side of a craggy ridge. Since we knew we’d be rolling into the park pretty late and didn’t want to deal with setting up a tent after such a long day in the car, we had rented a cabin at Cedar Pass within the park. We grabbed a late dinner of fry bread and bison burgers, checked into our cabin, and relaxed on the adirondack chairs on our porch with cold beers in hand, watching a lightning storm in the distance. It was a near perfect start to our adventure.

photo 3

female bighorn sheep

States passed through: Illinois, Wisconsin, Minnesota, South Dakota
Wildlife sightings: female bighorn sheep, wild horses

 

Categories: fun trip, honeymoon, on the road | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

Honeymoon Road Trip

Kurt and I just returned from our honeymoon roadtrip to South Dakota, Wyoming, and Montana. Neither of us had been to the Great Plains states before, and it was also the first time for both of us to visit Yellowstone and Glacier National Park.  Here is a photo of our route. Over the next few weeks, I will  post a day-by-day account along with photos, wildlife sightings, and more.

Screen Shot 2014-05-21 at 10.48.52 AM

Categories: fun trip, honeymoon, on the road, the great outdoors | Tags: , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Blog at WordPress.com.