Thursday, November 2, 2023

2023 Road Trip - The Cooler Weather Tour - upper Wyoming/lower Montana (incl. Yellowstone & Grand Tetons NP)

Continued from North & South Dakota 

(or, you can start at the beginning here as it includes links to all the segments)

We’ve noticed that ever since leaving Minnesota, the roads have improved dramatically. A lot less potholes and badly cracked highways. It appears the Dakotas and Wyoming have much better roads and highways compared to east of the Mississippi. 

After taking care of some van maintenance in Rapid City SD, we sojourned into the Cowboy State. Wyoming.

Looking ahead at the weather forecast, we saw a heat wave coming to the Wyoming valley towns we would be driving through. A 95-100 degree heat wave. But luckily, our timing was good as the Bighorn Mountain Range was next on our agenda and we planned to escape the heat into the higher elevations of Bighorn. 

We spent the next 3 nights in the Bighorn National Forest, at around 8,500 - 9,500 ft elevation, all on government Forest Service land…the first 2 nights free dispersed camping and the 3rd night at a small fee based Forest Service primitive campsite at Sibley Lake. We woke up to temps in the 40s. We didn’t have a cell signal for most of the time there…only in the low lying valley towns between the scenic byways. Because of the heat, we didn’t stay in those towns long, except to get gas and restock groceries.

We toured the Cloud Peak, Bighorn & Medicine Wheel Scenic Byways. It was a major wow factor making the drive from Greybull up to Burgess Junction. it reminded me of Glacier National Park & Banff National Park.

Moose got to swim and play in a couple high elevation lakes. I even went for a couple cold immersive dips myself after paddling on the inflatable SUP. Kris and I did a little bit of hiking and generally enjoyed the milder weather. 

And we saw moose! Two bull moose with a few juveniles along a river by the road, then three juveniles walked right through our campsite on our last morning.

Bighorn National Forest from WaterTurtle Media on Vimeo.

our dispersed overnight spot just south of Buffalo, WY. This was about 1 hour after I was stopped for speeding as I was driving out of Buffalo. Thankfully I only got a warning from the generous police officer.

Meadowlark Lake in Bighorn National Forest

our dispersed overnight camping spot 6.5 miles up the graveled Ten Sleep Road at 9,500 ft elevation (FS site #37)

paddling Sibley Lake 

Sibley Lake campground in Bighorn National Forest

entering southern Montana

We drove into southern Montana and stayed overnight at a great Harvest Host spot, Sentinel Alpaca Ranch, just north of Red Lodge. We even got a nice alpaca tour. I’m convinced aliens are real and that alpacas are the aliens we’ve been seeking all this time. Moose got to play with the working ranch dogs. Beautiful views here, beautiful sunset and a great place to wake up with alpacas roaming just outside our van. 

We started down the Beartooth Scenic Byway, one of the most scenic drives in America…not for the faint of heart with the winding hairpin turns & short or no guardrails. We stopped along the way and hiked to Twin Lakes at around 10,000 ft elevation. 

We drove into the NE entrance to Yellowstone National Park and spent some time touring the park over a couple days (boondocking in West Yellowstone). We didn’t spend much time at the geological sites since Moose would have to stay in the van. Yellowstone always impresses although it’s hard to get off the beaten path in most National Parks with small kids (when we last visited in 2014) or with a dog. Hence we’re spending more time outside the National Parks. But we got to see a black bear, a coyote, pronghorn deer, lots of buffalo, some elk (finally!) & a bald eagle.

the alpacas at Sentinel Alpaca Ranch

Beartooth Scenic Byway - a gorgeous drive

Twin Lakes Trail just off the Beartooth Scenic Byway, at 10,000 ft elevation

coyote in Yellowstone National Park

buffalo in Yellowstone National Park

black bear in Yellowstone National Park

elk in Yellowstone National Park

the geological marvel that is Yellowstone National Park - hot springs, geysers, and thermal basins

Grand Tetons

We eventually made our way to the Grand Tetons National Park and to the Jenny Lake area. That drive…unreal…those Tetons really pop! It was super crowded at Jenny Lake so we went a little further to String Lake and got lucky on a RV parking spot close to the water that had just opened up. Kris sat and read a book lakeside. I paddled the inflatable SUP in clear blue water and in the shadow of the mighty Tetons. 

We stealthily boondocked in downtown Jackson for a couple nights. Woke up to a leaking tire which couldn’t be repaired and led to having to get 2 new rear tires (and got some laundry done). A big thank you to Lindsay, the van owner, for being so responsive and the great communication throughout our trip on the needed van maintenance items. We had good eats while in town at The Kitchen, Thai Plate, and Snake River Brewing. 

The Grand Tetons - never gets old

Paddling on String Lake in the park. Paddling in the shadow of the Tetons was incredible. Probably the most scenic paddle I've ever done and that's saying something. 

downtown Jackson with Moose

We had a great 5 mile hike along the Snake River with the most incredible bald eagle encounters we’ve ever had. Watched both an adult and a juvenile bald eagle swooping along the river and in the trees. Captured some cool photos. At one point, the adult surprisingly swooped down towards me. I wasn’t fully prepared with the camera and captured a couple of out of focus and out of frame shots (the last 2 eagle photos at bottom).

Grand Tetons NP Jackson WY from WaterTurtle Media on Vimeo.

Next is Teton Valley - lower Montana - Coeur d'Alene, Idaho

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