The Many Faces Of Yellowstone

One of the things that I always loved about Yellowstone National Park is the variety that the park has to offer. Whatever you outdoor passion is, Yellowstone will probably have what it is that you are looking for. If you enjoy hiking, there is no place better. If you like fishing, it is some of the best trout fishing in the world. Camping? I think that goes without saying. If grand views are your thing, there are many to be seen. Wildlife enthusiasts will get closer to nature than ever before. So you might be thinking, how am going to be able to see all of this? Luckily, the park does make it simple with the Grand Loop Road which follows the outside edges of the park and gives access to all of its wonders. With that in mind, I do want to emphasize that one of the keys to a great experience in Yellowstone is knowing when to come. It just so happened to work out that the day I came to the park was Memorial Day. Needless the say, the crowds and traffic are overwhelming sometimes at certain locations. With all of the wildlife being so active, people just stop their car in the middle of the road to get out and photograph. One silver lining to that is that usually you have nice view of something while you wait for people to get going again. So if you are someone that is crowd averse, it might be wise to do a little research to find out when the park might not be as busy.

But as for me, my journey to Yellowstone starts in Cody, WY, which is about 90 miles to the east of the park. The drive in is scenic and low stress as it goes through Buffalo Bill State Park and into a deep valley along the banks of the Shoshone River. KIMG0124Wildlife is everywhere since it is late in the spring. Bears and mountain goats can be seen along the highway as you climb up to Sylvan Pass before descending into Yellowstone. The first thing that catches your eye is the massive Yellowstone Lake. Luckily, one of the first side trips you can go on is a short trip up to the top of Lake Butte Overlook. Once at the top, you get a panoramic view of the park and more specifically the lake, as the Continental Divide rises in the background. The deep blue water is calm and a thin layer of fog rolls onto the shore as the lake seems to go on for ever. KIMG0136Once you get back on the main road, it hugs the eastern shore with plenty of picnic areas and rocky beaches to walk along. Eventually the road crosses the Yellowstone River which at that point is just a couple hundred feet into its journey. It leaves the lake and will eventually empty into the Missouri River in Eastern Montana. However, in the park, it is a much more modest river with some of the cleanest water you will ever find. I stopped at one point where no one else was parked just so I could sit on the shore and enjoy the sound of it going by. However, the river takes on a little different personality just a few miles further downstream.

After it’s calm start, the Yellowstone River comes into the canyon village and goes over two enormous falls before going through the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone. This is one of the places in the park that if you come on a busy day, you will need your patient hat for sure. This is one of the most popular sites in the park, and rightfully so. KIMG0160The river has carved out this very deep, very steep canyon over time and the different colors in the canyon walls are very noticeable. But on the other side of the park, Yellowstone has another very different face that it likes to show off.

Probably the thing that comes to people’s minds when you mention Yellowstone, are the geysers. Since the park sits on top of a huge super-volcano, the amount of geothermic energy that can found is hard to imagine. One the western side of the park, you are constantly driving by highlights such as Old Faithful, Norris Basin, and Mammoth Springs. There are mud volcanoes and there are sulfur cauldrons. Which leads me to my last point. Yellowstone stinks!! Literally. All of the geothermic activity aids in the burning of sulfur, which creates one of most repugnant odors that you can come across. It kind of reminds of you of old boiled eggs. After a while, you become nose-blind to it and you only notice it in high concentrations. But it is a small price to pay for such an experience.

There is a part of me that feels guilty about only spending one day in such a diverse, spectacular place when it is so worthy of a multiple night stay, but it is all the time had to give. So, I leave out the south entrance and over the Continental Divide looking forward to my next adventure. Maybe something close by…….?

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Billings Montana: Adventures in Beer and Other Good Things

OK, real quick! Name the first city that comes to mind when I say destination city. What city do you think of? New York? New Orleans? Austin? San Diego? Anyway, how far down the list do you go before you get to Billings Montana? I know it never crossed my mind. However, now that I have seen what this city in Eastern Montana has to offer, the only thing I ask myself is: how did I missed this for so long? This town has everything I could ask for. Restaurants, breweries, great outdoor activities, and scenic views are all at one’s fingertips. Plus, the city is very easy to get around and you don’t feel like there are just crowds of people at every turn. Even though, it’s the largest city in the state, it just doesn’t feel that way, but it does have a lot to offer.

Naturally, I wanted to stay in the downtown area, and I was fortunate to book a great room right downtown. One of the first things I noticed was the number of craft breweries and craft distilleries close by. As someone that enjoys craft beer and the charm of the small brewer, this was just the perfect opportunity for me. Within a half-mile radius, there are six craft brewers and two craft distillers. I have never seen a city that has such a concentration like that in the downtown area. It really gives you the chance to sample a lot of different selections without having to adventure all over town to find them.

The next thing that I saw when I walked around was the great variety of restaurants, some of which were toward the higher end. Which I think is great! I’m not always going to be eating a $50 steak, but it is nice to have the option, the one or two times a year I will. So obviously, I didn’t get the chance to experience all of them, but one that I did try was Ciao Mambo, and it was just amazing. Ciao Mambo, is a small, Italian restaurant that has an open kitchen. When you walk in, immediately, you here the cooks calling out orders and the clang of pots and pans. It gives you the feel that you could be in your own home being served. And the food itself is just as good as it gets. Now, I do have to give a tip of the cap to the young lady working at Trailhead Spirits that recommended the place, because it was spot on. I never would have even known about the place if she didn’t say anything. I’m really glad I did. If there is one thing that I can stress to everyone, when you go to a new place, ask the locals where to go for dinner or drinks. Yelp is fine, but I’ll trust a bartender or hotel valet working downtown to give me the scoop on where to go. Most of the time, they have lived there all of their lives, so they know.

Finally, the last thing that Billings has that is worth the trip is just the natural beauty. The Yellowstone River flows through the city and snow capped Rocky Mountains lay in the distance. If you feel like venturing a little out of town, the Bighorn National Recreation Area is just a couple hours away. So the opportunities for hiking, biking, and sightseeing are plentiful.

So while I have been to many cities that have been great experiences, I cannot think of any that has been such a pleasant surprise as this one. If you want to venture off the beaten path a little bit and try something a little different, Billings Montana might just be thing you are looking for.

A Stroll Through The Dakotas

When most people think of the Dakotas, the first thing that comes to mind is Mount Rushmore and the Black Hills region. Now, I’m not going to tell you that the Black Hills are not worth checking out, because they absolutely are! What I will say is that there are other hidden gems to be found, both North and South. So, I set out on a little trek across the two states and I found a few things that are worth a mention.

After staying the night in Sioux Falls, I headed north on I-29 and decided that I would head west on US 12. I always thought that the Dakotas were this dry waste land, but what I found was a little different. I was expecting an uninspiring drive all the way to Mobridge and the Missouri River, but I was pleasantly surprised that there were dozens of lakes that shined like mirrors in the morning still. Bald eagles circled above and the early fisherman started to gather on the shores.

Once I got to Mobridge what stood out to me was Lake Oahe, which is the large reservoir created when Oahe Dam was built across the Missouri River. In the morning sun, the deep blue color of the lake painted a perfect contrast to the greens and browns that surrounded it. Once you cross the river, there is a short side trip along the shore to the resting place of Sitting Bull within the Standing Rock Reservation. Unfortunately, the site is showing some signs of neglect, but the view of Lake Oahe is all you really notice.

Once I finished my journey across South Dakota and made my way into North Dakota, I was curious to see what was referred to as the Enchanted Highway. The Enchanted Highway is a county road that connects Regent and Gladstone. What makes the road enchanted is the numerous scrap metal sculptures that are placed along the way. Don’t worry about finding all of them, because there is very little to hide these humongous works of art.

There is everything from a family of farmers, to grasshoppers, to birds, and even a school of fish. Not exactly what you expect for road side scenery in the Western Dakotas, but you have to admire the creativity.

Finally, my last stop isn’t exactly a hidden gem, but it is certainly a gem none the less. The southern unit of Teddy Roosevelt National Park sits right off of I-94, just north of Medora. Roosevelt NP is very similar in make-up of Badlands National Park and have many of the same features. Also, it is a great park for someone that might only have a day, or even just a few hours. The park has a scenic loop that almost everyone follows and there are many different points were you can pull off and get out of the car and take in the views.

One could get around the park in a couple of hours without any trouble, and they wouldn’t feel like they cheated themselves out of the experience. However, someone could spend days with all of the backpacking opportunities to be had. It truly is a park that has something to offer almost anyone.

Now I know, that I have left some places out. There is only so much you can do in a day. I guess I will just have to take a different route next time to find some more gems.