Thursday, September 27, 2012


We bid farewell to Yellowstone and head south down Hwy 191.  The air quality is probably the worst we’ve encountered so far. The smoke is so thick, that we can hardly see the Tetons as we pass Jackson Lake.  Once we’re past Jackson, the air gets clearer with each passing mile.   It seems that wildlife isn’t just limited to the National parks… In the meadows along the road we pass a herd of buffalo, deer and lots and lots of antelope… and the “Home on the Range” earworm strikes with a vengeance! BUT… the sky’s ARE cloudy… darkening, with billowing thunderclouds. We stop just south of Pinedale, WY at the Wind River View Campground.  This is an older place, but it’s right off the highway and perfect for a quick overnight stop.  It rains on and off through the night.

The next morning, with thunderclouds still darkening the horizon, we continue our journey south.  We are treated intermittently to thunder, lightning, rain and hail.  The views through flaming gorge are spectacular.  We stop at the Flaming Gorge Dam Visitor Center hoping to take a tour, but tours have been suspended due to the lightning. (Seems that dams are big lightning rods.)  We continue on to Vernal, UT and check into the Fossil Valley RV Park.  Again this is an older park with a high percentage of permanent residents. But it’s clean, the staff friendly and WIFI enabled.

Embedded Fossil

 We are here to visit the Dinosaur National Monument. We stop first at the visitor center and take a shuttle up to the Quarry exhibit hall.  The hall is built around a steep hillside containing approximately 1,500 dinosaur bones in their final resting place. Most of the bones are from the Camarasaurus, (love that name… were they paparazzi dino’s?)  Allosaurus, Apatosaurus, Diplodocus and Stegosaurus are also represented. The sheer volume of the preserved past is mindboggling.  We opt to hike back to the visitor center (rather than taking the shuttle.)  Along the Fossil Discovery Trail, we see some large unexcavated bone fossils peeking out from the rocks, tiny fossils of clams and fish scales, and current inhabitants lizards, chipmunks, ground squirrels and prairie dogs.

Fremont Petroglyphs
Green River
After leaving the center we drive the Auto Tour of the Tilted Rocks.  It’s just under 12 miles with 15 points of interest that include: one of the oldest known sites of human occupation dating back approximately 7,000 years, two sets of 1,000 year old pictographs from the Fremont Culture, stunning geologic features including the split mountain (cut by the Green River) and the colorful layers of the Morrison Formation and ending at the homestead cabin of the notorious Josie Bassett.  From the end of this tour we continued on the dirt road up Blue Mountain.  The views are incredible but it begins to rain and the return down the steep road becomes slick and slippery. 

On the way to Blue Mountain
Back at our home base, the penny in the tread check confirms that Dave needs new tires.  The stock tires that came with him are really not aggressive enough for our needs and now is the time to upgrade.  Since Vernal is a larger city with multiple tire vendors, Chris calls around and arranges to have 4 new Cooper Discovery AT3s installed.

After the installation we hit the road… back roads actually: The Red Cloud Loop Scenic Byway. We start in town and drive over 70 miles (about half on unpaved roads) up and around parts of the Unitas Mountains traveling through Lodgepole Pine and Aspen forests, meadows and canyons. The fall colors are spectacular.  We see lots of deer, chipmunks and squirrels. Ten miles before the finish, we turn off to the Sadie McConkie Ranch to check out one of the best sites for Fremont Culture petroglyphs in the area.  We hike both the Main trail and the Three Kings Trail and are blown away by the quality and quantity of these ancient art works.

Three Kings Panel

So that’s about it for Vernal and the Dinosaur National Monument.  There is a lot more in this area but like they say in The Game of Thrones… “Winter is coming!” and we need to head south… next stop – Moab, UT.


Sunday, September 23, 2012


Week Four – our final week in Yellowstone…

Bald Eagle
An inventory of the fridge and pantry tells us that foraging is necessary.  We head this time to West Yellowstone, a small town in Montana, just outside of the park.  On our way, along the Madison River we stop and photograph a bald Eagle.  This is the first one we have seen here.  Seems that the eagles and osprey have been moving out of the park due to the lack of their favorite food. The cutthroat trout population has been decimated by overfishing and the illegal introduction of predators, especially the lake trout.  Interestingly, the loss of the cutthroat also impacts the elk, since grizzly bears now eat more elk calves as there are not enough trout to fill their post hibernation bellies.

Before shopping, we visit the Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Center.  There we learn about the Bears and Wolves of the Yellowstone area. All of the animals here have been relocated to the center because they were either orphaned or developed bad behaviors in populated areas.  It does give us an opportunity to watch these predators up close and personal and the Center does a great job to give these animals a life (although in captivity) that is close to their experiences in the wild.  We watch the Bears forage for food under rocks and in a pond.  The wolves interact and do wolf things.  Afterward we stop at Market Place to pick up supplies and head back to the park.

We start a hike along the Lewis Channel Trail.  There are signs that a bear has recently walked along this trail.  (It’s comforting to know that we have bear spray with us.) We wind through forests and meadows turning red and gold.  A coyote meanders along the edge of the stream searching for his next meal. Chipmunks scurry across our path. It’s stunningly beautiful, but it starts to rain when we reach the canal between the two lakes, so we cut this hike short and head back. 

Hickok and Cody
Thom Ross, 1998
Since the weather is iffy, we decide to head over to Cody, WY to visit the Buffalo Bill Historical Center.  (Rain just makes us want to spend time in museums.)  Since it’s an 80-mile drive each way and the Center is touted as the “Smithsonian of the West,” with five full museums, we decide to spend the night in Cody.  We check into the Sunrise Motel located next door to the museum and spend the first day exploring the Yellowstone Natural History Museum and the Buffalo Bill Exhibit and part of the Plains Indian Peoples Museum. 

Dining at the Irma Grill
That night we head over to Buffalo Bill’s Irma Hotel.  The dining room of the Irma Grill is pure old west with a world famous beautiful cherry wood bar, tin ceilings and an impressive collection of dead heads adoring the upper walls.  After some tasty cocktails – including the first really cold martini I’ve had in months – we have one of the best prime rib dinners of our lives.  Seriously their prime rib is cooked to perfection melt in your mouth heaven!  There is a reason they are famous for their prime rib.
Irma Grill on Urbanspoon

The next morning we grab breakfast at Granny’s.  The place is packed, with tourists and locals.  (A good sign!) Prices are reasonable, portions are generous and the vibe is down home. Although tasty, the chicken fried steak was more chicken fried than steak. The accompanying sausage gravy tasted processed.  Their corned beef hash was “out of a can” so I ordered the Santa Fe Skillet of peppers, eggs, ground beef and cheese, served over hash browns. It was decent when doctored with salsa and a generous splash of Tabasco sauce. It’s comfort food, just like Granny used to make – if Granny used canned gravy, bottled salsa and processed cheese...
Granny's Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Saddlestring Cavvy
Bruce Graham 2007
Then it’s back to the Buffalo Bill Historical center where we spend the rest of the day exploring the rest of the Plains Peoples Museum, The Whitney Gallery of Western Art and the Cody Firearms Museum. We are enthralled with the exhibits of Plains Peoples Arts, the extensive works of western art and the sheer number of guns and riffles.  On the way out of town, we stop by the wild (bighorn) sheep exhibit and watch a short video about these beautiful reclusive animals.

Back in Yellowstone we continue our animal paparazzi experience.  We are fortunate to capture a small herd of bighorn sheep on Mt. Washburn and a stunning bull elk posing on a sandbar at Yellowstone Lake.  In Mammoth Hot Springs there’s a heard of elk lounging on the grass and on the hillside overlooking the center, the bleached bones of an elk are all that remain from predator’s and scavenger's dinner.

Lone Star Geyser
Elk Bones over Mammoth

On our final day, we plan a hike to the Prismatic Pools, but the parking area is overflowing so we check our map and decide to ride our bikes along the Lone Star Trail.  The trail runs along Spring Creek and the fall colors are incredible.  The bicycle authorized portion of the trail ends at the Lone Star Geyser.  We arrive to find a dozen or so geyser geeks waiting for the next eruption.  Within a few minutes we are entertained with explosive spouting water and steam.

Driving back to our home base we encounter a huge traffic jam near the Continental Divide.  Cars are double-parked and folks are lining the side of the road three and four deep with cameras and binoculars pointed into the forest. As we inch along, we catch a glimpse of a black bear ambling through the trees about fifty feet from the road. This is Yellowstone!

Yes we love Yellowstone, but we do take umbrage with some of the names in the park:
  • There is NO fishing at Fishing Bridge.
  • There are no elephants on Elephant Back Mountain.
  • There are no gibbons in or around Gibbons Creek, Meadows or Falls. (The only apes here are of the hiker or angler species.)
  • There is water, not lava in lava creek.
  • There were no fairies or any other mystical creatures at Fairy Falls.
  • No biscuits at Biscuit Basin. (Not even a muffin or a scone)
  • You cannot buy a car at Nez Pierce Ford



Aside from some of the nomenclature, no decent groceries, and limited cell service or WIFI, Yellowstone is an ever-changing magical place, where wildlife intermingles with civilization and the earth spits and spews.  There is so much to see and do and thirty-one days is not even long enough…we’ll be back!