Friday morning, July 23, we were up early and out, both excited for the coming week. Mine would be a girls trip with my BFF, Tina Ring, to celebrate her 50th birthday in June. MW’s (Mr. Wonderful’s) would be an entire week of hiking, or sitting, or whatever else he wanted to do without having another person there with him. (He is, after all, a loner.) We headed north out of Almo on ID-77 Spur, where we stopped to look at the historic marker for the Oregon Trail, which ran right through the valley and over the pass where our campground is located. (Someone left a little friend to look over the site.) We continued through Elba, then over to Malta and north on ID-81 and I-84 west up to Declo. We stopped for breakfast at the Village Grill just off of the interstate . It was basically a gas station/ convenience store/souvenir shop with a kitchen in the back and a few tables/booths. Without many options, we decided to chance it, and were pleasantly surprised with the breakfast plates. Funny Note: Just outside our window was a swimming pool for the co-located RV park that must have been built for tiny people. (See pic.) After eating, we headed east on I-84 to I-86 over to Pocatello. We ran a few errands and scoped out a laundromat for when I get back, then picked up my rental car and went our separate ways. I headed north on I-15 to Idaho Falls. Tina’s flight was delayed out of Denver, so I stopped at Culver’s to get some work done while I waited. The plan was for her to text me when she landed, and I would be at the airport outside of baggage claim 25 minutes later, giving her time to pick up her luggage. Well, I wholly overestimated the size of the airport in Idaho Falls. LOL. She walked off of the plane and down stairs onto the tarmac, and was out front in about 5 minutes. Thankfully, I also overestimated how long it would take me to get there, because I showed up a few minutes later. Win-win. We loaded up and jumped on US-20 north all the way to West Yellowstone, our destination for the night. We checked in at the Brandin’ Iron Inn right in town. (A rustic-looking motel, we found this place to be a little older, but very clean. There was a small RV park and laundromat onsite, too.) After unloading and relaxing for a bit, we headed out to find a grocery store, then to the Slippery Otter Pub. There was a crowd waiting to be seated, but they all had large groups. We asked how long for two, and they seated us immediately. Awesome! The food was very good, and the service was, too. (Tina had prime rib and I had a New York strip.) NOTE: It is very hazy from smoke from the Bootleg Fire and others over in Oregon, but we can’t smell anything.

Saturday we were up and out early, hoping to see the morning animals. We headed into one of my favorite places on the planet, Yellowstone National Park, through the West Entrance. Traffic was pretty heavy getting through the gate, but not terrible after that. We never had issues finding parking, but did occasionally get behind very slow drivers. This is my third visit to Yellowstone, and after all of the places I’ve been, it is still one of my favorites. MW is not a fan of the crowds that can gather at the big sites like Old Faithful or the Lower Falls, but I am just mesmerized by the scenery and the animals. After about 30 minutes, we caught sight of our first buffalo…a big bull just wandering down the side of the road. We passed through Madison and Norris, driving north to the North Entrance. The scenery changed drastically as we headed north of Mammoth Hot Springs and was very rocky and desert-like, with smatterings of Douglas fir visible in the distance. INTERESTING NOTE: In the heavily forested sections of the park, there are Douglas firs that are estimated to be several hundred years old! SECOND INTERESTING NOTE: While in one of the gift shops, I overheard a woman who was clearly from Georgia. She sounded just like my former mother-in-law. She was looking at the same shirt I was, so I helped her find the right size, then asked her where she was from. “A little town in Georgia near Augusta.” “Really?!” My first Air Traffic Control facility was Augusta Tower, but more importantly, my entire family on my Dad’s side is from a little town near Augusta. I told her that, and then said that he graduated from Lincoln County High School. SO. DID. SHE!!!

Venting Steam

We turned back south, then went east at Mammoth Hot Springs over through Tower-Roosevelt and on to the Northeast Entrance. That side of the park is heavily wooded and very mountainous.

Valley of the Buffalo (North American Bison)

We went out to Cooke City and had lunch at The Bistro, then headed back through the park to West Yellowstone, Montana. We walked around town a bit, then popped in at Pete’s Rocky Mountain Pizza, where once again, we were seated immediately despite a large crowd waiting. The food was very good, and after walking around a bit more, we headed back to get some sleep.

Sunday we were up early and checked out, heading back into Yellowstone National Park. We, once again, passed through Madison, then went south. Right out of the gate we saw a nice herd of elk…very exciting.

Lower Geyser Basin

After stopping at a few overlooks, we made it to one of the primo spots…Old Faithful. There are several different types of steamy features at Yellowstone. Hot springs are the most common. Water bubbles to the surface, then cools and circulates downward. Geysers are hot springs with something in their plumbing that blocks easy flow and builds pressure that is relieved when it erupts. Mud pots would be hot springs, except that they do not have an ample supply of water. All that acidic steam kind of melts the ground above it, creating a bubbling cauldron of mud. Finally, fumaroles are steam vents, and are the hottest of the four. Many people over the years have died at Yellowstone by ignoring the warnings and getting too close to the hydrothermal features. This is one place that you really want to pay attention to the signs! As always, there was a crowd waiting for the famous geyser to do her thing, but we got lucky when a woman sitting on a front row bench left. The park publishes the approximate time of the eruption, and people begin gathering a good 45 minutes before that. It was a beautiful day for it, with sunshine and cool air, so we just relaxed and enjoyed the wait. Old Faithful erupts every 60 to 110 minutes, and the park staff are pretty darned good at predicting when the next one will occur. Water and steam shoot into the air anywhere from 100 to 180 feet, and the event can last from 1-1/2 to 5 minutes! I’ve seen it several times and am always fascinated by that much power coming out of the ground. It is certainly a sight to see, and is my second favorite spot in the park.

Old Faithful

When the show was over, we checked out the gift shop, then continued over to West Thumb, making stops at Kepler Cascades and the Continental Divide. We turned northeast to head around Yellowstone Lake, then stopped at Lake Village for lunch on the giant, front porch.

Next we turned east to skirt the top end of the lake and head for the East Entrance. Here the scenery changed drastically. The lake on the right was bordered by huge areas of dead trees, as were the mountains on the left. These are lodgepole pines, the predominant tree in Yellowstone. Native Americans used these tall, straight trees in their teepees or lodges, hence the name. They are susceptible to both bark beetles and wildfires, and many of the trunks seen standing and laying around now are the result of the 1988 fires. (Most fires in the park are started by lightning strikes – 1 in 4 are by careless people, but in a typical year not a lot of acreage is burned. In 1988, though, a total of almost 800,000 acres burned. In most cases fires are allowed to run their course to rejuvenate the forest, unless threatening people or infrastructure.) In the lodgepoles, though, God built in a little miracle. In the spring, the male cones release copious quantities of yellow pollen to fertilize the female cones, which then begin to grow. When the female cones reach maturity the following year, SOME will open and release their seeds. Others, however, will remain tightly closed, hanging on to the branches, waiting. What are they waiting for, you ask? High heat. Heat like you find in a roaring forest fire. Shortly after those serotinous cones have been heated, they release their seeds, which spread out over the charred landscape and reseed. How COOL is that??!!

Yellowstone Lake

Once we left the lake area, the Douglas fir forests reappeared. We checked out Sylvan Lake, and crossed Sylvan Pass, where we saw the first signs of snow up in the Absarokas. The exit from Yellowstone is the entrance to the Shoshone National Forest. By the time we crossed that line, the terrain had become mostly rocks with trees and sagebrush/snake weed scattered about. Near the Buffalo Bill Reservoir, we also passed through the Buffalo Bill State Park. They like Bill in Cody!

After checking in at the Holiday Inn Cody and talking to a nice fellow at the Cody Visitor’s Center, our plans for the evening were set…dinner, show, and rodeo! We relaxed a bit, then headed over to The Cody Cattle Company where dinner was buffet-style and included baked chicken, beef brisket, and all the fixin’s. Oh, and dessert was just about the best brownie I’ve eaten. While we ate, we were entertained by Ryan Martin and the Triple C Cowboys band. They played a variety of country music, including some of the great old singers like Marty Robbins. After that, we headed over to the highlight of my night, the Cody Nite Rodeo. Since 1938, there has been a nightly rodeo in Cody during the summer months. It offers a practice ground for participants and a great night under the stars. There was a couple in front of us from Iowa with a little boy who had never seen a rodeo. Enjoying it through his eyes was even better. He asked about the rodeo clowns, and I explained that they have one of the hardest jobs in the area protecting the riders on the ground. Just after that, one of the rodeo clowns got thrown into the air by a bull. That kid’s eyes were like saucers. In the end, we asked if he had a good time, and he just about nodded his head off of his neck. Oh, and Tina rode a bull named Mongo. In a chute. Okay, it was out front, and he was tied up, but still neat. What a night!

Bucking Broncs at Rodeo in Cody, Wyoming

Monday morning we both woke up still exhausted. We took our time getting our act together, then headed out to Granny’s Restaurant for some breakfast. After that, we went over to check out Old Trail Town near the rodeo arena. In 1967, in an effort to preserve rapidly deteriorating buildings and relics from the old west, historian Bob Edgar started gathering them up and moving them to the west side of Cody, the site Buffalo Bill and his cohorts chose for the original Cody City in 1895. The town was set up with a wide street for cattle and wagons and buildings down either side, just like many in the old west. It is now the largest collection of authentic western buildings, horse-drawn wagons, memorabilia, and Indian artifacts of its kind. There is also a cemetery with actual graves, the most notable of which is Jeremiah (John) “Liver Eating” Johnston of the Robert Redford movie fame. Johnston died in the Los Angeles Old Soldier’s Home, and was buried in California. A mountain man for almost his entire life, he was just off of the freeway in LA when the movie came out. The guy from the Visitor’s Center said that the Californian’s wanted to develop the land, so a notice went out to western towns to send in an essay, and the winner would get the remains of Johnston. Cody was the only town to write an essay. BUT, in my research, it appears that the move was instigated by a class of eighth grade students in Antelope Valley, California, and their teacher, Tri Robinson. However it started, the result was Johnston’s move to Cody, Wyoming, where Robert Redford was one of the pall bearers for the reinterment. Three of the buildings onsite were frequented by the famous “Hole in the Wall Gang”, including Butch and Sundance. It only costs $10 to stroll through, and on a nice day you could spend a good bit of time. It was very interesting, but we went a bit fast, because of the ridiculous heat!

Next we headed over to the Cody Firearms Experience. They let you shoot all kinds of neat guns like flintlocks, old pistols, and full autos. They even have a Gatling gun available. It was a bit pricy, though, so I talked myself into coming back when MW could do it. (Yes, I am a wonderful wife!) Tina decided she’d rather spend the $$ on souvenirs for her crew, so we both ended up opting out. It was a cool place, though, and you can even bring kids 8 and up with restrictions. Who doesn’t want to shoot cool guns???!! We headed to downtown Cody to do a little shopping for those souvenirs, before heading back to the hotel to rest for a little bit. For dinner, we chose The Irma Restaurant and Grill, which is in the Irma Hotel. The food was delicious…Tina had the buffet, which included her favorite, prime rib, and I had the trout. We even went for dessert, which we have been avoiding. Once done, we passed the street “shoot-out” play that was almost done and drove around getting pics of some more of the statues in town.

One place we wanted to get to, but ran out of time and energy is the Buffalo Bill Center of the West. This is said to be five museums in one, and requires a full day or two to get through it. It is on my list for a return visit for sure. All around the grounds are terrific statues, and we did take a look at those. Here are a few examples.

Buffalo Bill Cody helped found his namesake town in 1895, and his TE Ranch was just south. In 1902, he built The Irma Hotel (named for his daughter), installing the large, cherrywood bar gifted to him by Queen Victoria after his command performance. (He also built the Wapiti Inn and Pahaska Teepee along the road to Yellowstone to accommodate tourists.) During his lifetime, Cody was probably one of the best known Americans in the world. He rode for the Pony Express at 15 years old, a job with a very low life expectancy. He was a Union soldier during the Civil War and later served as a scout during the Indian Wars. The latter earned him the Congressional Medal of Honor. After meeting writer Ned Buntline, his name began appearing in papers back east, although some of the stories were made up by the writer. Nonetheless, Cody’s fame grew in the US. He traveled to Chicago to make his acting debut in 1872. Panned by critics, the shows were loved by the public, and Bill’s light grew brighter. Later, when he created Buffalo Bill’s Wild West and took it overseas, that fame became worldwide. In the early 1900s, he worked to get irrigation for the Big Horn Basin. The ultimate result was the Shoshone Project, which created the reservoir. Years after his death, an act of Congress renamed the dam and reservoir for him. The Freemason and Knight Templar died in Denver, Colorado, in January 1917. He is buried on Lookout Mountain in Golden, Colorado.

Tuesday we were once again up, checked out, and on the road before 7 AM. There were still a couple of places to see in Yellowstone, a whole other park to see, and we need to get south to the last tourist town for our girl trip. On the road west of the reservoir, we passed something we stopped to grab a pic of this time…a Shoney’s Big Boy on a concrete pedestal in the middle of a huge, open field in the Shoshone National Forest. WHAT?! Tina looked it up, and it seems it just appeared in the field without explanation in the summer of 2013. We continued into the park back to Lake Village, then turned north.

Just before Canyon Village, we came to my, and a lot of other people’s, favorite place in Yellowstone National Park. You get a little preview at the first stop, the beautiful, powerful Upper Falls. Then you get back in the car, head a little further down the road, and take a little walk to the Lower Falls in the gorgeous Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone. Since I’ve been here before, I knew what to expect and was really excited to see Tina’s reaction. It was good! What must the first people to see this place have thought? It is awe-inspiring!! What a perfect morning for a beautiful walk with a gorgeous view.

The Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone

Next we headed to the South Entrance and exited Yellowstone for the last time on this trip. That’s just a little sad! Not too far outside the park gates is Flagg Ranch, where we stopped for lunch at Sheffield’s Restaurant. We both had burgers…mine was bison…that were pretty darned good. The side was bacon mac ‘n cheese, which was amazing, but super rich so we took most of it with us. As you exit Yellowstone, you enter Grand Teton National Park. The smoke haze was terrible, and the mountains did not have that crisp, clear look they normally do. I was disappointed for Tina, but we both still enjoyed the drive south to Jackson.

We checked in at the Motel 6 just outside of downtown. We’ve been lucky with hotels for this trip, but I wasn’t feeling it when we pulled in. It was a pleasant surprise when we opened the door to a room that was neat as a pin and very clean. Whew! We unloaded the car, then headed back to downtown to find dinner and do a little shopping. Pinky G’s Pizzeria was the dinner selection, which has also been on “Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives.” It is a small place, and we had to wait for a table, so we sat at the bar. There was a young couple at the end, and after a minute she leaned over and said we needed to order drinks at the register. That started the conversation. The guy was in nursing school, and he and Tina talked about different areas of study. Honestly, despite the fact that he was younger than my children, I was just really enjoying the view. He REALLY looked like Stephen Amell. At some point we were talking about where we were from, and he said “a little town outside of Augusta, Georgia”. “Really?!” Turns out that he went to Evans High School, which is the next town up from where my Dad grew up. Also, his family has a home very near where my Grandmother’s place was. That’s TWICE in a few days. Even weirder, I really didn’t have conversations with many people. Oh, I almost forgot…Tina and I both had calzones. Tina’s was perfect, but mine was a bit dark on top. Both tasted delicious, though. After dinner, we checked out a few shops, then headed for the hotel. It’s exhausting trying to see it all!

Wednesday started with breakfast at the Whistling Grizzly in the Wyoming Inn of Jackson Hole down the street. Everything was delicious, but oddly, they didn’t have any kind of jelly for the biscuits. They apparently serve their own, homemade version, but ran out and didn’t have any backup option. Well, that isn’t totally true…they did bring us packets of honey that were so hard we couldn’t use them. I’d still go back, though, if only to try the homemade jelly! LOL. Our number one plan for the day was to go to the top of a mountain. The original plan was to ride the lift at Snow King mountain. Denied…it is closed for renovation. Plan B: the Rafferty life at Snow King. We bought tickets, and added the Summer Cowboy Coaster, too. The coaster was right there, so we opted for that first. It was pretty neat…single person cars that go a little way up the mountain and then zig-zag back down. There is a brake, but who needs that on a coaster?! (I took a video for you guys, but it would make you sick to watch it!) Exhilarated, I was all ready for the lift when Tina said she heard someone say it was closed for a while. We confirmed, so dang…refund! Plan C: We checked online to see if the gondola up the mountain at Teton Village was running, then bought tickets and headed that way. We passed through Jackson, and as we turned north, the Tetons came into view. That’s when we saw it…a huge thunderstorm over one of the mountains. We got a bit closer and realized it was OUR MOUNTAIN! As we approached, the lightning appeared. Then, once in the parking lot, the rain began, and of course, the gondola was closed. The really odd part was that the storm was only over that mountain and no other in the Teton Range! Seriously!! After getting another refund, we slowly made our way back to town (traffic was crazy) where we did a bit of last day souvenir shopping. Our final stop in Jackson was for a late lunch and a margarita at Merry Piglets Tex-Mex. Go there! Best Carne Asada I’ve EVER had! Finally it was time to head to Idaho Falls to be prepared for Tina’s early flight in the morning.

ONE FINAL JACKSON NOTE: Unless you like crowds, long lines, constantly searching for parking spaces, and ridiculously expensive everything, just don’t go. Well, maybe go for one day so you can see it, and then leave. This was my third visit. The first was about 36 years ago, and it was great. The second was about 10 years ago, and it was significantly more crowded and expensive. Now it is just out of control. Of all of the towns around Yellowstone, my favorite is Cody, Wyoming. There is a LOT to do, and it is more spread out and just easier. West Yellowstone, Montana, is also a good choice, but is not as laid back as Cody. Another option would be Gardiner, Montana, on the north side of the park.

So while Tina and I were off playing, MW went on a couple of ranger-led hikes at City of Rocks, fixed some stuff on Petunia, and took a nice, driving tour through City of Rocks, over to Oakley, north to Burley, and back to the park. I’m sure there was a lot of enjoying the morning weather, reading, and quiet time, too. A week is about as long as I’ll stay gone. He might realize that he enjoys the quiet more than me!!

Castle Rocks State Park – Smoky Mountain Campground is very remote, but pretty nice. Just outside the town of Almo, Idaho, the sites are nestled around on the hillside, and not really visible from below. Amenities include a fishing pond, disc golf, a picnic shelter, archery course, and a few other things at the park, which is physically separated from the campground by a few miles. The campground just has a very clean bathhouse, although the toilet and sink were on one end and the shower was on the other. The State Park is adjacent to the City of Rocks National Reserve, and there are plenty of biking, climbing, horseback riding, and hiking opportunities, including Ranger-led hikes, nearby. Hunting is also allowed in certain areas of the Reserve. The campground has 37 sites. Six are equestrian with corrals (2 pull-through), and 31 general campsites (7 pull-through). Each has 30-amp electric, water (summer only), picnic tables, and parking pads.

Next up…south then north and who knows! See you on the path!


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