June 26th, 2016 – West Yellowstone, Montana to Idaho Falls, Idaho ~230 miles.
Yellowstone National Park was the only place on our trip where we had planned on spending more than one day, so we stayed in neighboring West Yellowstone, Montana for easy access to the park. This of course meant I overspent on lodging for the second day in a row. Yesterday I bitched about spending $200 at a Motel 6 – today I get to complain about spending $275 at a Days Inn! That’s just how it works when you’re near one of the world’s most famous parks during the summer.
Part of that nightly room rate apparently went to the decorations in the halls. When we were ascending the steps, we thought for a moment an elk was lying in wait for us:
Our first stop was at Madison Junction. In the parking lot, I saw an odd sticker on the bottom of this license plate. I’m all for self-deprecating humor but this doesn’t seem like something that a driver would put on their own car, right? So is it the work of an angry fellow motorist?
Despite entering via the south entrance of the park yesterday, Vy and I covered the north loop. So today our plan was to cover the south loop and then put some distance between us and the park on the way into Idaho.
I had been to Yellowstone once before as a young kid, and since that time I pretty much forgot about how much geothermal activity is present. In a car you can avoid a lot of the smell…on a motorcycle, not so much:
The western edge of Yellowstone Lake is the home of West Thumb Geyser Basin. We ended up catching a guided tour by a park ranger and while there’s a few features worth mentioning, the highlight for me was Black Pool. Considering what it looks like, it’d be fair for you to suggest that this hot spring is poorly named. Well, it turns out that until the early 90s, the pool was such a dark green color that it might as well have been black. But in 1991, seismic activity shifted additional thermal energy to Black Pool, heating it up and killing all the bacteria inside of it. Now a different type of bacteria makes its home there and contributes to the beautiful blue. Obviously, the name stuck.
The southern loop road follows along Yellowstone Lake for a few miles, and every time you see a traffic pileup you know it’s because there’s wildlife nearby. Though you can’t legally split lanes in Wyoming, being on the motorcycle makes it much easier to get through the mess of cars to find a good parking spot. This time around we were rewarded with a good view of an elk:
One of the cars that had pulled over to see the elk had one of the cutest dogs I’ve ever seen just chilling in the passenger seat. I normally don’t care for this kind of thing, but look at him! It’s three months since we did this trip and this photo still makes me laugh when I look at it:
Got up close and personal with a plover:
Hayden Valley is what remains of a lake from many years ago – thanks to the fertile ground it is now the site of the “largest rut (mating season) of free roaming bison in the world.” This photo doesn’t do it justice – it’s an amazing sight to see several bison trundling along and I can’t imagine what it must be like when the males start fighting for dominance. I suggest you detour over to Wild at Heart Images for some great examples.
Right before the paved loops meet up on the right side, Yellowstone River (which empties out of Yellowstone Lake) plunges over Yellowstone Falls, a series of two waterfalls known as the Upper and the Lower. The Lower falls are bigger (at 308 feet they’re almost twice as tall as Niagara Falls) so we went there. There are multiple hikes in the area – our first (and much easier) hike gave us a nice view from afar to put things in perspective:
Facing the other way on the same hike gives you a view of Artist Point, which reminds me of Artists Palette in Death Valley:
The second hike was called the “Brink of the Lower Falls”, and it’s a long series of switchbacks that I have no interest in doing again any time soon. The view was less impressive because you’re just at the edge of the waterfall but you can’t see the water going over – but it’s very loud and we were able to catch a rainbow to boot:
Vy wanted to mail a postcard to her parents before we left the park, so we stopped by Canyon Village. While Vy was in the post office, I met a father/son duo from the New York area that had just purchased this Land Rover in California. They were taking a couple of weeks off and driving their new acquisition home at a cruising pace of 55 miles per hour. Such a cool bonding trip! Unfortunately while the son was driving the day before, a deer jumped out in the road…and that’s why the front right fender is all tweaked:
From there we just headed west. Onward to more riding and exploration!
Back in West Yellowstone, we saw a sweet tour bus, though I’m not entirely sure where in the park these wheels and tires are necessary:
Very quickly, we were in Idaho…
Stumbled upon a series of junkyards, one of which had more than its fair share of motorcycles:
Can you identify this bike?
Beautiful wildflowers on Highway 20:
We got into Idaho Falls, which is fed by the Snake River. The town has done a wonderful job of creating a beautiful riverfront park – and it was made even better with this Jaguar E-Type:
There’s a LDS temple nearby that opened in 1945, and it looked quite majestic in the backdrop of the river. It is apparently currently under renovation and it will be open again next year:
As it was Sunday, Vy was very excited to catch the season 6 finale of Game of Thrones. She had even made it a point to call ahead to the motel we were going to stay at to make they had HBO. To make sure we wouldn’t miss the show, we didn’t even bother sitting down at the restaurant that we went to (The Bee’s Knees). We just took the order to go and rushed over to the motel. You can’t imagine Vy’s disappointment when she turned on the TV to see this:
Thanks to the wonders of the internet (and the fact that I brought my laptop to continue writing Bike-urious posts while we were traveling), we were able to start a free trial of HBO Go and catch the finale so I could save the day for Vy:
I’m not a big GoT fan, but there was one scene that I was absolutely enamored by, thanks to the music. Obviously, huge spoiler alert:
From there it was the usual routine of doing some research for what we’d be seeing the next day, writing some more posts on the site, and getting some rest. In fact, today was one of the weirder nights of our research. It all started with Vy wondering how dangerous bison could be (very). This then took us down a rabbit hole of how people die at Yellowstone, and it turned out that just a month before, a 23 year old man passed away because he left a boardwalk and fell into a hot spring:
“Efforts to recover the body of Colin Nathaniel Scott, 23, of Portland, Ore., were suspended on Wednesday after rangers determined there were no remains left in the hot spring.”
Vy and I were surprised by how often tourists died in the thermal geysers of Yellowstone – Colin was the 22nd on record. Heck, there’s even a book specifically on Deaths in Yellowstone: Death in Yellowstone: Accidents and Foolhardiness in the First National Park, where you can learn about sad stories like this one:
“The most unfortunate of all of Yellowstone’s hot spring deaths, however, may be the case of David Kirwan, a 24-year-old from California. On July 20, 1981, his friend’s dog, Moosie, jumped into the Celestine Pool, a 202-degree spring. Kirwan, seeing the dog suffer, prepared to dive in. “Don’t go in there!” a bystander yelled. “Like hell I won’t!” Kirwan replied and dove head first into the water. He died the next morning of his burns.”
From there we just got lost in weird deaths in general. Careful though – that link will suck up a lot of time because you’ll want to learn more about cases like “2012: Geoffrey Haywood, 65, pretended to be blind for pity. One day, he fell into a ditch and died. He apparently did not see it. The coroner working on this case said it was the most extraordinary case he had seen in 30 years.” Eventually we just had to get some sleep, because the next day we’d get to meet another Bike-urious reader!
Missed Day 8? Vy and I explore the Grand Tetons and a little bit of Yellowstone National Park. June 25th, 2016 – Jackson, Wyoming to West Yellowstone, Montana ~225 miles.