Wednesday, July 28, 2021

Yellowstone, Boondocks, and Beartooth

We spent Tue (7/27) driving through Yellowstone NP. It was crowded, as I feared it would be, but we avoided the Old Faithful Geyser area, which seems to be the most packed. We visited the West Thumb Geyser Basin. We watched the bison, and the Darwin Award candidates who exited their cars and walked near the bison. We visited both upper and lower falls on the Yellowstone River, finishing with Mammoth Hot Springs. In a couple of weeks, we'll come back through Yellowstone on our way home, which gives us a chance to see some things we missed. (Elena's hoping to see a wolf.)

Bison in Yellowstone's Hayden Valley
Possible future Darwin Award winners for removing themselves from the gene pool
Paul and Elena at Lower Yellowstone Falls
Lower Yellowstone Falls in the valley

This was the first night we didn't know where we would stop and sleep. Boondocking is the term used for finding an open space in a national forest or other public lands area and parking/sleeping there for the night. We initially planned to try somewhere around the northeast entrance to the park along the Beartooth Highway. However, a road closure in Yellowstone forced us to the northwest side of the park. We needed to get gas, so we decided to exit the north entrance into the town of Gardiner, MT to fill up and make a plan. 

I had scouted possible boondocking sites along the Beartooth Hwy, but not in Gardiner. We called a couple of RV parks, but they were full (no surprise). I'll admit that I really like to have a plan. Thank goodness I married Elena, who is much more calm and comfortable in these situations. We gassed up and were driving through Gardiner when I spotted a Forest Service office. Elena went up to the window (still not allowing people inside) and inquired about boondocking sites. The employee said there was a rest area just five miles up the road on the banks of the Gardiner River with nice shade trees. We were the first to arrive. We were joined by one other vehicle before 9:30 PM (when I fell asleep). When I got up at 6 AM I found four other boondockers had joined us during the night. I didn't hear them even pull in.

Our first boondocking spot. RV is on the right
with the white windshield cover on.

The site was right against the Gardiner River, where we watched elk graze across the river in the evening. The next morning, I watched a couple dozen elk come down from the mountain and cross the highway to the river. There were a few close calls with speeding cars, but they all made it across safely. 

Today (7/28) we exited Yellowstone through the Lamar Valley and drove the Beartooth Highway. The Lamar Valley had an abundance of bison and even some pronghorn. We stopped to have lunch and enjoyed a quiet trail that led to a very nice waterfall. What a stunning drive it was along that highway - especially at Beartooth Pass! At 11,000 feet, we were above the peaks of many mountains and even some snow fields. Although high-altitude smoke from western forest fires obscured the views, they were still spectacular. We are visiting parks out west, but it looks like they are all mimicking the Smoky Mountains National Park.

Bebop at Beartooth Lake - very alert for bears

On the Beartooth Highway  

On the Beartooth Highway

Now we are in a campground in Reed Point, Montana, for the night. Tomorrow (7/29) we'll drive up closer to Glacier National Park and try to grab a first-come, first-serve camp site at Two Medicine on Friday morning. We plan to stay there for four nights and explore the eastern side of the park before driving across the Going to the Sun road. Connectivity will be pretty sparse there, so if you don't hear from us, don't worry; we weren't eaten by a moose. Probably.

- Paul


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