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Grand Teton And Yellowstone — Cowboy Country, Pt. 2

Embarking on the vacation leg of our trip through Wyoming and Montana

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When I finished my previous post we had wrapped up the Midwest Ocular Angiography Conference at the Four Seasons Resort and Residences in Jackson, Wyoming the previous night and were just about to begin the holiday leg of our trip through the Pacific Northwest of the USA.

Wednesday, July 10, 2019
We had our lunch at the Four Seasons with Tony, the pharmaceutical representative from Chicago we had met at the conference, and now it was time for us to hit the road. We got in our white, rental Toyota Corolla and it needs to be said, Anna does a great job of driving on the opposite side of the road and there were some confusing roads and intersections to deal with in this area. Wifi was almost nonexistent so we had to either try and make the most of the one bar of connection we had while in a town to find our destination on Google Maps or simply resort to paper maps, something I would have to do a lot over the coming days in order to navigate, making me sometimes feel more than a little carsick. In fact things were so remote we couldn’t even get a radio reception and it looked like we’d just be listening to static for the next couple of hours until I was finally able to get my phone to pair with the car’s stereo via bluetooth, allowing us to listen to the music I had saved on iTunes. If we had to rely on Spotify, we would’ve been screwed.
It really didn’t take that long to make our way deeper into Grand Teton National Park, where we would be spending that night:

Grand Teton National Park is an American national park in northwestern Wyoming. At approximately 310,000 acres (480 sq mi; 130,000 ha; 1,300 km2), the park includes the major peaks of the 40-mile-long (64 km) Teton Range as well as most of the northern sections of the valley known as Jackson Hole.
Along with surrounding national forests, these three protected areas constitute the almost 18,000,000-acre (7,300,000 ha) Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, one of the world’s largest intact mid-latitude temperate ecosystems.

The human history of the Grand Teton region dates back at least 11,000  years, when the first nomadic hunter-gatherer Paleo-Indians began migrating into the region during warmer months pursuing food and supplies. In the early 19th century, the first white explorers encountered the eastern Shoshone natives.

Grand Teton National Park is an almost pristine ecosystem and the same species of flora and fauna that have existed since prehistoric times can still be found there. More than 1,000 species of vascular plants, dozens of species of mammals, 300 species of birds, more than a dozen fish species and a few species of reptiles and amphibians inhabit the park.

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One of many meese in the area

To be honest, neither Anna nor myself is particularly interested in fly-fishing, which is extremely popular there, but we do like the outdoors, hiking, and checking out the wildlife so we would be doing plenty of that over the coming days. In fact, we learnt an easy way for spotting animals almost immediately; if you see a whole heap of cars pulled over on the side of the road and a bunch of people staring and pointing into the distance, there is usually something worth pulling over and seeing. On the first occasion it was a female moose (above, right) grazing in a small body of water. It was obviously female, because it didn’t have antlers, but this got us immediately wondering if there might be more moose around, particularly male ones. Then I got a little irritated when it occured to me that the moose is a member of the deer family so the name is an invariant, the plural form still being “moose”, not “meese.” It seemed like such a wasted opportunity, but never mind, that wouldn’t stop me from referring to them as “meese.” Nothing could.

Another stop en route to our destination would be Jenny Lake, a popular hiking area through some of the tallest peaks in the Teton Range, in order to trek a portion of the Cascade Canyon Trail. We would take a boat, the humorously named “Beaver Dick Leigh” (which I later discovered was named after Richard “Beaver Dick” Leigh), from South Jenny Lake across to the the entrance of Cascade Canyon and hike up to the well-signposted Hidden Falls, then past the Jaw and the Rock of Ages, down to Lake Solitude, along the way passing that family from Oregon with whom we went whitewater rafting the previous day and Anna having to keep the sole attached to a busted hiking shoe with a hair-tie, before finally making our way back down to Jenny Lake and catching the “Beaver Dick Leigh” back across to our car. Besides squirrels, we didn’t really see any wildlife, but the scenery was pretty spectacular. See for yourself:

Now that we were done with the hiking we had to find our way to the ranch where we were staying. That’s right, ranch. We were staying at the Heart Six Guest Ranch, which claims to be “One of the oldest dude ranches in America,” located just outside Grand Teton National Park and right near the south gate of Yellowstone National Park. Another fact to add was that the ranch stunk strongly of horse manure, an odour that you could almost taste, one that never disappeared, but also one that permeated everything until you just became acclimatised to it. One good thing about staying in this region is that it stays light until about 9:30pm each night so we didn’t have to worry about locating the ranch in the dark, but when we eventually found it, we were surprised to also see covered wagons and teepees on the grounds. We would definitely have to explore them a bit more in the morning, because I want to know how Native Americans could tolerate the cold nights here in just a teepee!
When we arrived we checked in, noting the wildly swinging ceiling fan in the ranch’s reception, along with the multitude of mosquitoes and other insects in the general vicinity. Once done we didn’t go to our room, instead opting to drive down to a nearby river in the hope of seeing some animals, as dusk is apparently the prime time for spotting wildlife. Unfortunately, we didn’t encounter a whole lot, just a couple of female deer enthusiastically spotted in the distance by some fellow tourists, a large, slowly moving mound on the opposite bank of the river that was apparently a beaver (but realistically it could’ve been almost anything), and some spiders. I did, however, manage to snap the photo of the mountains with the purple sky that I used for the featured image for this post while we were there.

We returned to the “Dude Ranch” and asked the guy working in reception where there was to eat. There were apparently two options, one of which the receptionist said in no uncertain terms was “shit.” We walked outside and there was a man in a cowboy hat passing us so we asked him for his recommendation, to which he replied the other option out of the two was “shit.” We weren’t expecting to find ourselves in a culinary hotspot, but in our experience there people were more willing to tell you which was the worst out of the two restaurants, as opposed to which one they preferred, and thus far the consensus was split 50/50. Not a good sign so we opted for the closest which was on the grounds of the ranch — It was shit. There was probably only about 15 minutes until the kitchen closed and there was a family on a table behind us where the mother, similar in appearance to what you see in ‘Karen’ memes, was going to snap. She was constantly complaining to our waiter and bitching at her kids, but it was the waiter that I felt bad for. This tall, gangly guy with long, blonde hair in a ponytail with a fringe, a curly moustache, and suspenders over a t-shirt was frazzled — It can’t be easy being the only hipster in a tiny town, as well as the only employee in the town’s restaurant. When the family was ordering, the mother asked if there were any gluten-free options, to which the waiter replied that nothing they serve would be truly gluten-free, because they cook everything on the same grill and don’t really clean it. She just let out an audible, dissatisfied sigh and ordered a random dish. I’m not sure if he was cooking the food too, but it took quite a while to come out and it most likely wasn’t because they were busy cleaning in the kitchen. That family were there first so their food arrived before ours and the mother still wasn’t happy, going on a rant about the poor quality of their dinner. Ours eventually arrived and it was pretty bad too; a tough steak each and french fries that weren’t just crunchy, but hard as if they had kept all of the leftover, uneaten fries aside over the course of the evening and then refried them all at the end for our meals — It’s pretty hard to screw up fries, but they managed somehow. Still, we just smiled and gnawed on our steaks and crunched our fries, because we didn’t want to ruin the waiter’s night any further, he seemed close to tears.

Once we had got through the bulk of our dinner we decided to have a look around this part of the ranch, including the lounge area and the bar. As had been the case in Jackson and is probably a theme running through all ranches, there was a heap more taxidermy within those walls. Inside the lounge there was a kid being shown how to play pool by an older man, people sitting around reading books, and a stoned-looking guy admiring a stuffed animal head mounted on the wall, looking at it in the same way that a person takes in a renaissance masterpiece in a European museum. He giggled and pointed out to me that it had a weird horn in the middle of its head that would block its vision when it looked to the side. I mentioned that its eyes were on the sides of it head so it probably wouldn’t have had true peripheral vision anyway and the horn could just be the result of poor taxidermy. He seemed to take this onboard and continued to study this felled beast. Anna and I decided to take in other areas of the building such as the small bar with incredibly uncomfortable looking saddles on top of the barstools, when the guy staring at the head came running up, appearing relieved to have finally located me. “It’s a caribou!” he yelled while laughing hysterically, obviously having asked someone else, because he wouldn’t have been able to Google it unless he could get on one of the two occupied computers in the lounge.

We weren’t going to be staying in a teepee or a covered wagon, we just went up to our ugly room and hit the sack for the night. We were told when we checked in that the rooms in the part we were staying had only just been completed and when we got up there we saw that it was really basic; the walls were just plywood and everything appeared to be unfinished and really cheaply done so we could hear everything happening in the neighbouring rooms, all the while trying to make contact with as few surfaces as possible in order to avoid getting splinters. It also smelled of turpentine and there wasn’t a TV or wifi for a distraction so we just showered and went to sleep.
A look around the ranch and our room:

Thursday, July 11, 2019 
Maybe it was just the jet-lag catching up with me, but I had a mild epileptic seizure that morning in my sleep. It wasn’t anything major, I still remember waking up immediately afterward and snoring heavily while trying to get back to sleep, but it would leave me feeling kind of lethargic, however, I wasn’t going to let it prevent me from making the most of the day. We also couldn’t sleep much, because there was construction going on outside our room from the early morning onward, as well as people speaking loudly just outside.

We knew that the restaurant in the ranch was terrible and we hadn’t heard sparkling reviews about our only other option so we didn’t bother with breakfast, we just went down to a convenience store, breathing in the fragrance of horse shit the entire way and passing our waiter from the previous night, a defeated-looking man now hanging out towels. We just hoped for better results than the last time we were in a convenience store and we didn’t do too badly, just a couple of average cups of coffee and I grabbed a Hunter’s Reserve Roadkill meat stick. It may sound like a bad double entendre and due to the word “roadkill” being a registered trademark, I have my doubts that it did contain any actual roadkill, however, “meat from feral swine” was one of the listed ingredients. Anyway, I ate the roadkill stick and stuck the wrapper in my pocket, because there were no bins around.
We did one last look around, taking in the covered wagons and teepees around Heart Six Ranch and was surprised to see that they were actually quite modern on the inside, almost to the extent of our room, except for the fact that the people staying in them needed to use a communal toilet, something that is kind of a dealbreaker for Anna and I.
A better look around the ranch in the light of day:

Before long we were back in the car, bound for the world famous Yellowstone National Park (no, not Jellystone):

Yellowstone National Park is an American national park located in Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho. It was established by the U.S. Congress and signed into law by President Ulysses S. Grant on March 1, 1872. Yellowstone was the first national park in the U.S. and is also widely held to be the first national park in the world. The park is known for its wildlife and its many geothermal features, especially Old Faithful geyser, one of its most popular features. It has many types of ecosystems, but the subalpine forest is the most abundant. It is part of the South Central Rockies forests ecoregion.

Yellowstone National Park spans an area of 3,468.4 square miles (8,983 km2), comprising lakes, canyons, rivers and mountain ranges. Yellowstone Lake is one of the largest high-elevation lakes in North America and is centered over the Yellowstone Caldera, the largest supervolcano on the continent. The caldera is considered an active volcano. It has erupted with tremendous force several times in the last two million years. Half of the world’s geysers and hydrothermal features are in Yellowstone, fueled by this ongoing volcanism. Lava flows and rocks from volcanic eruptions cover most of the land area of Yellowstone.

Hundreds of species of mammals, birds, fish, and reptiles have been documented, including several that are either endangered or threatened. The vast forests and grasslands also include unique species of plants. Yellowstone Park is the largest and most famous megafauna location in the contiguous United States. Grizzly bears, wolves, and free-ranging herds of bison and elk live in this park. The Yellowstone Park bison herd is the oldest and largest public bison herd in the United States.

That all sounds pretty cool and if you took the time to read that Yellowstone background information, you would have seen that it mentioned a geyser called Old Faithful, the eruption of which we wanted to witness that day:

Old Faithful is a cone geyser located in Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming, United States. It is a highly predictable geothermal feature, and has erupted every 44 to 125 minutes since 2000.

Eruptions can shoot 3,700 to 8,400 US gallons (14,000 to 32,000 L) of boiling water to a height of 106 to 185 feet (32 to 56 m) lasting from ​112 to 5 minutes. The average height of an eruption is 145 feet (44 m).

The time between eruptions has a bimodal distribution, with the mean interval being either 65 or 91 minutes, and is dependent on the length of the prior eruption. Within a margin of error of ±10 minutes, Old Faithful will erupt either 65 minutes after an eruption lasting less than ​212 minutes, or 91 minutes after an eruption lasting more than ​212 minutes.

The drive to Yellowstone took us through some gorgeous scenery, bringing us within six miles (10 km) of the Idaho state line, through mountains and alongside rivers until we were finally where we needed to be. Old Faithful wasn’t due to erupt for another 30 minutes or so when we arrived, but remember there is a ±10 minute margin of error, meaning it could be anywhere between 20 and 40 minutes. We had a look around the stores nearby, used the bathroom and grabbed a drink, then we went outside and pulled up a seat on the wooden, colosseum-like benches and waited for the show to begin:

Once the geyser had finished doing its thing the bulk of people watching began applauding for some reason, however, a lot of people here do that when their plane lands as well and you know for a fact that that pilot has successfully landed every single flight he’s flown. Others complained that the geyser was three minutes early which was kind of amusing, mainly because it doesn’t follow a set schedule, rather people make educated guesses with reasonable accuracy as to when it will erupt and within three minutes is a pretty decent guess.

We then spent the bulk of the day hiking around the grounds, although this left me a little breathless at times, probably a combination of the altitude and the seizure that morning, but we saw some incredible sights. Photos don’t do justice to hydrothermal features so before I post the pictures from around the park, I’ll add some more videos of individual ones we came across:

Once we were done in Yellowstone National Park it was time to start driving toward the state of Montana, our home for the next couple of nights, and twice along the way we saw a bunch of cars pulled over to the side and people staring out at something. As I mentioned, that means there is something worth seeing and we wouldn’t be disappointed on either occasion.

First we would be stopping by one of the numerous geyser basins that follow Firehole River to see yet more hydrothermal spots. This area was crowded and the features there were incredible yet again. On this occasion I had a middle-aged guy with a big beard start laughing at my “Let’s Summon Demons” t-shirt, asking his 14-year-old daughter over to admire it. As it would turn out, she and a group of friends had recently got in a bit of trouble with both teachers and police for conducting satanic rituals and dad was more than proud, both him and his daughter wanting to find where they could get the shirt as well. Ultimately just settling for a picture with me.

We ended up stopping further along the river, this time to stop and watch and entire herd of elk that were making their way upstream. At this point we hadn’t seen a whole lot of wildlife so it was a sight for us to behold:

The next stop would be our last one for the day, we would be traveling to Bar N Ranch, but we wouldn’t be staying in their regular accommodation, not by a long shot. From Memorial Day to Labor Day, or May 23 until September 8, when there isn’t too much snow, the ranch opens Under Canvas and Anna had booked for us to go glamping in a tent in the middle of nowhere. That’s no typo, for those unaware of the term, “glamping” is a conjunction of “Glamorous Camping.” I mentioned earlier that Anna doesn’t tend to like roughing it and despite the fact we were going to be staying a tent, she would by no means be getting in touch with nature. We were going to be staying in a Stargazer tent, described on their website as:

Stargazer

The Stargazer has its own viewing window above the king bed to stargaze at night. The ensuite bathroom in your tent includes a shower, sink and toilet. A wood stove keeps the tent warm at night and a private deck allows you to enjoy the outdoors.

  • Sleeps up to 4
  • Private bathroom

Key Features

  • Superior view with night sky viewing window
  • King size bed with luxurious linens
  • Private bathroom complete with shower, sink & flushing toilet
  • Additional camp cots and bedding can be provided for up to 2 people

Definitely an upgrade from staying in a sleeping bag under a tarpaulin, the type of camping that I was used to. Hell, it turned out our tent even had its own indoor fireplace with a sealed flue going outdoors.
We drove down there, but there are a lot of cattle surrounding the entrance due to a cattlegrid stopping them exiting the premises so we couldn’t enter until a woman coaxed all of the cows away from the road. Once down the path we checked in and were chauffeur-driven in a golf cart, along with our luggage, to our super-luxurious tent and this wasn’t like anything I was expecting. We got everything arranged, then went to the main area of Bar N Ranch to have dinner, which turned out to be a great meal, and then it was back to our tent.
It was a cold night and our shower had hot water, but it took a little while to kick in. Also, the only way to keep the hot water running was to be continually pulling down on a handle, otherwise it it would just cut off, leaving you standing there naked and wet on a freezing night. Anna discovered the best approach was to put soap on the sponge and toothpaste on the brush before getting in, that way you never had to release your grip on that handle. While I was in the shower, she also thought she had found some biscuits on the fireplace, but wasn’t really hungry — It was a good thing, because they turned out to be firelighters.
I was pretty tired by the time I got into bed, our tent had a clear panel above the pillow area so I put on an eye-mask and we both went to sleep.
This is where we would be spending the next two nights:

Friday, July 12, 2019
Anna was already awake and reading by the time I awoke, which was still quite early. She hadn’t worn her eye-mask to sleep so she woke as soon as the sun rose over the clear panel above us in our tent, but no mask could block out the glare, waking me not long after and helping me avoid getting sunburnt. Factor in the jet-lag that was still affecting us and it becomes clear we yet again weren’t really destined for a long sleep.

The plan for the day was to do a little backtracking from Montana into Wyoming to Gallatin National Forest, an area near where we were the previous day, first stopping off at Gibbon Falls and then making our way down into the Mammoth Hot Springs area of Yellowstone National Park for some hiking, hopefully encountering something a little bigger than an elk this time.
Before we left we took a look around where we were staying, this time in the broad daylight, me realising as we were walking that the previous day I hadn’t discarded of the wrapper of my roadkill jerky, instead just stuffing it in my pocket. This wasn’t a particularly bright move because, although we were hoping to see some bears from a reasonable distance, I didn’t want the smell of meat attracting any to me directly. I’ve never even really been in a fight before so I don’t like my chances of fending off a grizzly bear, I’d more than likely just instinctively play dead. Probably should pop that wrapper in a bin.
The place where we were staying felt bad about some of the food we had been served in the area so far so they allowed us to buy packed lunches from their really good restaurant and we were off. We drove down to Gibbon Falls, a waterfall currently with a drop of approximately 84 feet (26 m) and constantly growing as it erodes the rock below, and we noticed what we had seen time and time again not only the day before, but had also noticed on several previous trips spent exploring the outdoors — That a lot of women traveling from a country that shares its name with the material from which fine teacups and saucers are made choose fashion over function. We particularly noticed it in Turkey where these women would be walking around caves and other geological features wearing high end dresses and heels when hiking attire is far more appropriate, preventing injuries and allowing you to access more areas. Now a lot of them had been wandering around Yellowstone, some even rocking a pair of stilettos, and we hadn’t seen the last of them.
Anyway, Gibbon Falls was really nice, here’s a look at our morning up until that point:

Next we were going to make our way to a kind of unnamed town in the Mammoth Hot Springs Historic District, first to eat our packed lunches, then to go to the Horace Albright Visitor Center to get us some information about where we could go hiking and potentially see some big furry things.
A little more about the Mammoth Hot Springs Historic District, an area that looks a hell of a lot like a town, operates like a town, but apparently isn’t a town:

The Mammoth Hot Springs Historic District in Yellowstone National Park comprises the administrative center for the park. It is composed of two major parts: Fort Yellowstone, the military administrative center between 1886-1918, and now a National Historic Landmark, and a concessions district which provides food, shopping, services, and lodging for park visitors and employees.

Fort Yellowstone is a carefully ordered district of substantial buildings that clearly indicate their military origins. The U.S. Army administered the park from 1886 to 1918 when administration was transferred to National Park Service. The park headquarters is now housed in the original double cavalry barracks (constructed in 1909). The Horace Albright Visitor Center is located in the old bachelors’ officers quarters (constructed in 1909).

The concessions district contrasts with the military district, with a less formal arrangement and style and includes the Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel and Dining Room, a gas station, and retail stores. The Yellowstone Main Post Office, itself on the National Register of Historic Places sits just north of Fort Yellowstone. The residential area includes houses designed by architect Robert Reamer.

So despite having a residential area, retail stores, and even a post office, it still doesn’t qualify as a town, just a “Concessions District.” That explains why I was so confused trying to figure out the location when I first started writing this part of this post, even the locations on the photos I took aren’t accurate.

Anyway, as we were driving into the town concessions district our path to the main parking area was obstructed by a couple of deer making their way across in front of us, which was not a bad start. We ate our packed lunches from Under Canvas then, as we were making our way to the Visitor Center we had to walk pass the town concessions district square, a patch of grass between the two main streets that was teeming with female elk, all just hanging around, some laying down, others eating. I took some pictures, but as I went in to get a slightly closer shot I was accosted by a park ranger. “You must remain 25 yards or 22.8 metres away from all wildlife at all times!” he screamed in a well-rehearsed fashion, but you would think that if it were really that important they would put up at least one sign in the town concessions district. In fact, the only place it was even mentioned was on a flyer from the Visitor Center, however, you needed to walk past the animals to get the flyer. Once in the Visitor Center we stocked up on some supplies such as sunblock and insect repellent as the mosquitoes and horseflies in this area are awful! Anna wondered whether we should get some bear spray, but to me it all seemed like a bit of a scam; the stuff is US$50.00 (currently about AU$72.50) per can and we hadn’t even seen any bears! It was also possible to rent bear spray from some places, but the stuff doesn’t act as a repellent, more like a form of mace for use on bears, and I figured if a grizzly bear was intent on attacking you, spraying mace in its face would only piss it off more so we opted against it.

We got ourselves some maps and were soon on our way, hiking on an uphill path, walking for about 15 minutes when we were approached by an excited looking tourist from New Zealand and her two young children coming the opposite direction. She told us that just a bit further up the hill was a female grizzly bear with two young cubs and it was a bit angry, scaring her kids. We asked her if she thought it was safe for us to continue and she replied, “Oh, sure, you’ll be fine as long as you have your bear spray.” Shit. We walked back down into the town concessions district, forked out the US$50.00 and got us some bear spray.

Take two. We started to make our way uphill again, this time equipped with our bear spray in a hip holster, a liquid with its ingredients listed as 2% capsaicin and 98% “Other ingredients”. This stuff must be pretty strong, possibly even working on the power of suggestion, because after over an hour of anticipating encountering a defensive grizzly bear and its cubs we came to the conclusion that there were now three possibilities:

  1. The bears were substantially further away than the woman had led us to believe,
  2. The bears were gone, or
  3. The woman was working for the bear spray company

I even began to wish I had now kept the Roadkill wrapper in my pocket in the hopes of attracting one. Still, we kept going, hiking for about five hours, covering over 15 km (9.3 miles) of rugged terrain, getting caught in the rain and mauled by mosquitoes, just to see a couple of does, which quite possibly could’ve been the same one multiple times, one male deer, plus a couple of squirrels here and there.
As our hike continued, I became more and more annoyed at how anticlimactic it had been; I was now exhausted, wet, and extremely itchy, yet we had seen hardly anything, encountering not only more wildlife, but cooler-looking animals in the town concessions district! We stopped off briefly to have a look at the Mammoth Hot Springs and then decided to head back. To add insult to injury, there was a female elk sitting right next to our car, but screw that 25 yard rule, I wasn’t in the mood to let this thing stop me from getting in our car. If I needed to be 25 yards away from the wildlife, it could do its part on this occasion and move away from me.
Some scenes from the town concessions district centre and the little we saw on a disappointing, albeit trying, hike:

That night we went into a real town, West Yellowstone, Montana for dinner with the intent of eating a bison or bear steak out of spite, because we sure didn’t encounter any on our hike. Instead, we settled for a ribeye and some damn good devilled eggs, all of which we shared between us, and then we headed back to our tent for a final night before moving on to the next stop.

Initially I was going to try and tell the story of this trip in two parts, but it turns out I will need a third and final post in order to tell it properly.
Where would we be staying next? Would we encounter any wildlife worth writing about? And would I have to wear that hideous cowboy shirt again to a rodeo? Stay tuned for the conclusion of our journey through cowboy country!

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