Go West…

This summer my wife and I took our oldest granddaughter camping.  But not the usual weekend at one of the state parks.  We made an 1800-mile journey from our home in southern Michigan, up through our state’s upper peninsula to Cody Wyoming and then further west to Yellowstone National Park.  It’s something I’ve wanted do for many years.  Bringing our little travel trailer wasn’t always part of the plan but it seemed like it would be an adventure, and it was, to say the least. 

We would have done the trip sooner, but like so many things, the COVID pandemic made a lot of things uncertain.  So, we waited until 2021 to do it.  We loaded our gear in the camper and the crew cab of a 2019 Chevrolet Colorado pickup and headed west.  We stopped overnight twice on the way and saw a lot of the American west that I hadn’t seen in many years.  The plains states are beautiful with many historic sites and scenes, but the most exciting thing about that drive was seeing mountains rising in the distance.  While the anticipation was high for the grown-ups, by the time we got in to Cody it had been almost three days in the truck, which was a lot to ask of our young passenger.  She was a good sport though and was looking forward to playing at the campground.  

Our camper and truck rig at the rest stop. Photo by author.

After driving for two days on flat land, the climb up into foothills of the Rocky Mountains was a welcome change of scenery. However, being flat-land dwellers most of the time meant we had a pretty steep learning curve on the winding mountain roads. I drove the whole final leg of the trip to Cody through the Bighorn mountains. The little pickup did an admirable job for a v6 and we rolled into the KOA near Cody in the early evening. It was great to get settled, and enjoy the barbecue put on by the folks that run the campground.

During our first day in the park, I was amazed by how developed it is.  While there are many miles of nearly empty and secluded wilderness, there are park amenities that I never expected.  There are gas stations, an entire village with a post office, multiple souvenir malls and even a service station where you can get your oil changed!  I must admit the development was a bit of a disappointment, but in exchange it was also a convenience.  We could get fuel, snacks, and goodies pretty much whenever we wanted.  What we could not get was a table in a restaurant.  All the indoor dining was still closed due to COVID.  Finding a table outside was a challenge sometimes, but we didn’t let the pandemic precautions get us down.  At the Cody and West Yellowstone KOA campgrounds we stayed at, we were able to dine in at their outdoor grills.  

Elk grazing and relaxing in the village. Photo by author.

We explored the park, the surrounding towns, and the campgrounds for seven days.  We also took a raft trip on the Yellowstone River.  We took a lot of pictures.  We saw bison, elk, and eagles, but no wolves or bears.  The bison are so accustomed to people that they would wander up and lay down, right next to the walkways and even on some of the trails.  We tried to be prudent and give them a wide berth.  Still, when they decided to go walking down the middle of the road, there was little to be done to avoid them and we would sometimes sit in mile-long backups waiting for them to clear the lane! That was Ok, though, we were visitors in their space, and I was happy to give them a wide berth.

Oh give me a home… Photo by author.

We also marveled at the deep canyons and waterfalls, and the variety of geography.  Even though the whole park is on a high mountain plateau, there were plenty of river beds and even a large lake to go with the steep, forested mountainsides and canyons.  Everywhere we went there was beautiful landscape and despite there being thousands of cars and likely tens of thousands of visitors it wasn’t hard to find a quiet, out-of-the-way place to enjoy a view relative peace and solitude.

One of my lunch stops while exploring the park – Fire Hole Canyon. Photo by author.

Of course one of the highlights of the visit was Old Faithful. The village around the geyser has it’s own exit (which was under construction!) from the main road through the park. While we were waiting for the first eruption of our visit, our granddaughter made fast friends with children from another family visiting from Michigan and they worked their way to the front of the crowd on the walkway in front of the geyser and waited to see if they would get showered with water.  They were only a little disappointed that the wind was blowing solidly the other way and they never felt a drop! 

Old Faithful Inn exterior; Jim Peaco; July 2003

After our days of exploring and traveling the mountains and plains, I understand why people fall in love with the west.  But I’m captive to the woods, waters and fields of my home state.  Michigan has hundreds of inland lakes and rivers, and endless acres of public recreation land, but it pales in comparison to the scale of Yellowstone.  There is no doubt we will go back.  I’m not sure I will be eager to pull a camper through the winding mountain roads again, but as we learned the park is full of beautiful lodges and cabins so I suspect we will avail ourselves of one of them.  We enjoyed a brief visit to Tetons National Park, but it wasn’t nearly enough, so we will also hope to find time to visit there and stay longer for some exploring.  For now, it’s fair to say that I have many fond memories of our adventure and plans to return.  

You can check out my Flickr Album with more pictures here.

Mt. Haynes and the Madison River. Photo by author.

About Yellowstone National Park – Yellowstone National Park is the oldest national park in the US National Park system.  It was created in 1872, via a law signed by Ulysses S. Grant.  The park is approximately 2.2 million acres of lakes, rivers, and canyons on a high mountain plateau in the caldera of a dormant volcano.  The park is dotted with active many geothermal artifacts including geysers.  The most famous is Old Faithful.  During our morning visit to the grounds around Old Faithful we saw it erupt three times.  The magma chamber beneath Yellowstone is believed to be over 37 miles long and up to 7 miles deep!  

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