In our last blogpost, Yellowstone National Park — Part 1, we shared our first three days exploring the vast northern parts of the national park. We stayed at a campground 35-miles outside the North Entrance. We were awestruck with so much beauty as we tried to see as much as we could. Yellowstone is enormous. We did a lot of driving, but it was worth it. In this post, we move to another campground on the west side of Yellowstone National Park for three more days of exploring.
The morning started like any other travel day. We were in no rush to get out early. It wasn’t going to be a long drive — just a little more than a hundred miles — and check-in time at our next park was not until one o’clock in the afternoon. We enjoyed our morning coffee and caught up on some reading before methodically packing things away and hooking the camper to the truck.
Red Rock RV & Camping Park in Island Park, Idaho is only 23-miles from Yellowstone National Park West Entrance Gate. We had an exuberant recommendation for this park last year from Mike and Tish, a couple we met while camping in Yosemite. So when we got reservations for three nights — over the weekend no less — we were thrilled.
The late morning drive through the national park was beautiful. We had absolutely no difficulties negotiating the roads with the trailer in-tow. Driving out of the West Entrance Gate, we passed the shops and restaurants in the town of West Yellowstone. It seemed like an interesting place and Grammi commented that she would like to stop here sometime in the next couple of days when we don’t have the camper behind us.
With only thirteen miles to go — something bad happened! We crossed into the state of Idaho on Highway 20. The Google Map lady announced, “Welcome to Idaho”, when from out of nowhere, a deer jumped in front of the truck. I had no time to react. Bam! In the blink of an eye, I hit the poor thing dead center. I had slowed down some from the 70 mph speed limit so Grammi could take a picture of the state sign as we typically do, but still, the impact was fierce.
There was no shoulder to pull off on, but I pulled over the best I could. Still partially on the road, I turned on the four-way flashers. We were shaken but unhurt. Damn it! We can’t say the same for the truck. We saw the damage. The bumper was bent. The grill was busted. A cloud was rising from under the hood. Where was the deer? We could not find the deer. It happened so fast I just didn’t see where it went. I got down and looked under the truck, under the camper, but there was no deer. It was like some sort of sinister magic trick. There it wasn’t—there it was—there it wasn’t again.
Traffic was whizzing by only inches from us. I told grammi, “let’s hurry to get somewhere safer.” I watched the gauges as we drove on. Could the radiator be damaged? I wasn’t sure. Everything remained normal so I keep on going to the campground. Soon the warm air coming from the air conditioner vents told the story. The cloud was not from the radiator; it was from the air conditioner’s condenser coil.
I felt sick about hitting the deer. I’ve replayed the incident in my head many times and I’m not sure what I could have done to avoid it. The damage to the front of the truck is heartbreaking, but it could have been worse. It will not end our travels. But with no working air conditioner and warmer days ahead, we need to figure out our next step. We called the insurance company and made a claim. We called some local repair shops. It didn’t take long to realize this was not going to be an easy fix. It meant we would have to stay put somewhere for weeks to have it repaired. Frustrated, we closed the laptops.
We heard music playing. Grammi said she was told during check-in there would be live music in the campground this evening. We shrugged our shoulders — a gesture that meant…might as well — and carried our chairs to the pavilion. A guy wearing a ball cap and sporting a white goatee had a guitar slung over his shoulder. He stood in front of a music stand with a folder of sheet music struggling to keep things together as a stiff breeze blew across the park. Adding to our pensive mood, he played a medley of sad country and western songs, not one of which was about a poor deer and a smashed Ford truck. Maybe, I’ll write that song someday. If I do, I think I’ll call it — Welcome To Idaho.
The next morning we were ready to go. The pouting was over. We have already lost one day and we don’t want to lose anymore time. Top on our list for the day was Old Faithful. Everyone that comes to Yellowstone has to see the famous geyser. Our plan was to stop at Midway Geyser Basin first, since it was on the way to Old Faithful. It is where Grand Prismatic, the world’s largest hot spring, is located. It, too, is on our list. However, traffic was backed up getting into that parking lot. People were parking along the side of the road and walking for what might be a mile or more to get there. We passed it by. We will try again later.
There wasn’t a traffic backup getting into Old Faithful, but finding a parking spot was a challenge. We circled through the lot a couple of times looking for a spot. Finally, we saw a few spaces on the far edge. As we walked through the parking lot toward the geyser basin, we saw the very top of Old Faithful erupt over the trees and heard the cheers from the crowd. It was over before we got there. People were walking away. That meant we would have to wait probably an hour and a half before the next eruption.
Years ago, I had Old Faithful’s live webcam feed on my computer at work. I would watch people as they waited for it to erupt and dreamed that someday I would see it for myself. As we took our seats front and center, I thought about waving at the camera. Hello, I made it. I am here. However, I didn’t do it.
Old Faithful is one of 250 geysers in the Upper Basin. We watched some of the other geysers erupt in the distance as we waited for Old Faithful. When the moment arrived and Old Faithful shot skyward, the oohs and aahs from the crowd erupted as well. People began to applaud. It went on for three, four, maybe five minutes; I’m not sure. I got goose bumps. It was fantastic and worth every minute we waited. I felt so happy that I saw Old Faithful erupt. Check this off the bucket list.
We walked to Old Faithful Inn. It was open; the visitor center was not. A national historic landmark built from 1903-1904 with local logs is considered to be the largest log structure in the world. In the lobby, a massive fireplace made from local stone towers high above. It was impressive.
Tucked among the trees near where we parked were a few picnic tables. It was quiet and away from the crowds. We took a few minutes to sit and have lunch. With a view of the parking lot, it was not worthy of a photo. Maybe we could have worked harder to find a better lunch spot, but this was just convenient and timely.
Next we drove to West Thumb Geyser Basin; a smaller and less visited basin on the shore of Yellowstone Lake. It offers some of the most dramatic and colorful views of geothermal features that we’ve seen so far. It was beyond words. How can I describe a scene where steam is rising from a deep blue fathomless spring framed by a rainbow of thermophiles centered in the foreground of a subalpine lake and snow capped mountains, all under a cerulean sky adorned with wispy white clouds? It is impossible! Like an artist with a limited palette, I do not possess the words. The photos we took may help, but not even those can fully express the magnificent beauty.
As we tread across the boardwalk, a breeze coming off the lake caused us to hold on to our hats — not everyone did. It was disheartening to see so many hats littering the basin. A ranger was attempting to retrieve a Tampa Bay Lightning hat with a long telescoping pole but it was just out of reach. A sign described how items such as hats can damage and possibly impede the flow of the springs.
From West Thumb we drove along the north shore of Yellowstone Lake toward Lake Village stopping at some of the pullouts to admire the views. Aha…this is where we should of stopped for lunch, oh well, maybe another time. We stopped at Bridge Bay Marina to check it out. Several boats, some quite large, were moored at the marina. Boat rentals are available and I’m sure we would have rented one if we had more time.
Following the Yellowstone River, we continued our drive through Hayden Valley stopping at some pullouts to take pictures and admire the view. Near Canyon Village, we turned onto North Rim Drive where we saw some people watching a black bear and two cubs. The cubs were up a tree as a nervous mom watched the growing crowd. Soon the cubs climbed down and they all vanished into the forest.
It was getting late and we still had a long drive ahead. We picked up our pace and headed to Norris, turned toward Madison stopping briefly at Gibbon Falls, and on to West Yellowstone where we stopped for dinner. At Firehole Bar-B-Que, we stood in line for thirty minutes before an employee announced they had sold out of bar-b-cue and were closing early. We walked across the street and waited in another line at the Slippery Otter Pub. More than just a pub, they had a good menu with lots of food options. It was very good. We drove back to our camper after dark watching intently for deer on the highway.
The next morning we were back at West Yellowstone. Grammi wanted to browse the shops and boutiques. She was looking for something. I don’t know what. She didn’t say, only that she would know when she found it. We didn’t miss a single shop on Canyon Street, nor on Yellowstone Avenue for that matter. It was late afternoon before we eventually made it back into the park. We still have to see Grand Prismatic Spring.
First we turned onto Firehole Canyon Drive. Wow, we were glad we didn’t miss this hidden gem. It’s a two mile oneway road through the Firehole Canyon and past the Firehole Falls. It is where one of only two designated swimming areas in the park is located, but it was temporally closed by the park service during our visit due to high water and swift currents. But hey, the waterfall was awesome.
Next we stopped at Fountain Paint Pots in the Lower Geyser Basin where we walked along the Fountain Paint Pot Trail. It is a boardwalk trail where we saw boiling mud pots, fumaroles, erupting geysers and steaming hot springs. We timed our stop here perfectly as Fountain Geyser started to erupt. We watched with amazement for twenty minutes or so before it began to subside.
Again we drove passed Grand Prismatic Spring because of the long line of cars waiting to get in the parking lot. We went on to Biscuit Basin where a boardwalk trail loops past features with names like Shell Spring, Black Pearl Geyser, Sapphire Pool, Mustard Spring and Jewel Geyser. The thermophiles living in the warm water cascading across the rocks create a colorful landscape.
Finally, just before 8:00 p.m. we found a parking space at the Midway Geyser Basin. Third time is a charm, as they say. Gosh, it was such a small parking lot. No wonder there was always a line here. There may have been some divine intervention though. It was a perfect time to be here. The late evening provided us with beautiful lighting to photograph the spring and made for some awesome pictures. My only regret was we did not have the time to hike up to the overlook for a view from higher up. I certainly won’t miss that photo opportunity the next time.
With fading daylight, we went to Firehole Lake Drive. Good fortune once again bestowed itself upon us as we arrived during an eruption of Great Fountain Geyser. The sun setting behind the geyser provided a dramatic backlight. I think the pictures we took turned out amazing. It was surprising there were so few people here to see this amazing sight giving evidence that early morning and late evening are the best times to be in the park. Also nearby was another amazing sight, the cone-shaped White Dome Geyser. It looks like a small volcano.
As we drove out of the park for the last time on this trip, we were gifted with a gorgeous sunset. We had to stop to take a few pictures. It was a fitting end to a whirlwind six days. The enormity of this park makes it impossible to see it all in one lifetime, let alone six days, but that did not keep us from trying. We will forever remember our time here. The grandeur of Yellowstone inspired us. We have to come back here someday — hopefully soon. Maybe stay a month or two…or three. Just a dream? I don’t know. We’ll just have to see.
Until next time — happy days and safe travels.