Friday, June 25, 2010 (Beartooth Highway, Yellowstone)

We took it easy this morning and let everybody catch up on some sleep. Buster woke the girls up when he started growling at some deer walking by, but we threw him in bed with us so everybody could get an extra hour of sleep. When we finally got moving, we hung out on the rocks along the river, threw the Frisbee for Buster, and Mike took everybody on a bike ride to see the other camping areas. One was near a lake and had a huge rock the kids could climb up and slide down. From there, it was mostly downhill back to our campground, and it must have been impressive to Julia to speed along on her bike along a road with mountains stretching up high on both sides. She got back to the camp and announced that you could “really feel alive” with the wind hitting your face. It was such a pretty campsite nobody was in a hurry to leave, so we didn’t pull out until just after noon.


Julia spending part of her morning by the water


Elizabeth in the campsite

The Beartooth Highway: The rout between our campground near Red Lodge and the next town, Cooke City, is 67 miles of sheer insanity. We went from a bottom creek bed to almost 12,000 feet — from a temperature of almost 80 degrees to 47 degrees at the top where we were throwing snowballs at each other. The road climbed . . . and climbed . . . and twisted at nearly 90 degree angles . . . and curved through snow drifts standing higher than the truck on both sides. Sometimes guardrails, but sometimes not. At one point, we got out at an overlook to see the view and a woman was bending over sick from the elevation. At a point closer to the top, two people on motorcycles had apparently misjudged a curve and were stretched out on the road in sleeping bags with people giving their head wounds first aid. Like I said, craziness. It was a fantastic drive, though, and I’m just glad Mike was the one behind the wheel.


View from the Beartooth Highway Overlook:  Our campsite was somewhere along the river at the bottom, and we’re still not quite at the top! 


Mike & Christine shivering on the overlook.  When we left camp, the temperature was in the 70’s.  Here it was dropping into the 40’s!


Julia ready to get back in the car!


The grown-ups had to pull over and make snowballs.  The kids wouldn’t get out of the car once we were above the snow line.

Driving the 67 miles took nearly 3 hours, so we were really late for a lunch stop when we finally reached the first picnic area inside Yellowstone where we got the grill out of the truck and made a quick lunch of hot dogs and Fritos.

Our camp stop for Yellowstone was in Gardiner, MT, just north of the northwest entrance to the park, so from Cooke City and the northeast entrance, we drove through Lamar Valley, the Tower Roosevelt area, and the Mammoth area. The Lamar Valley is an area of Yellowstone Mike and I hadn’t seen during our first trip in 1995. It doesn’t look anything like the rest of the park. It’s just big and broad areas of grass and river beds below trees at higher elevations and the mountains in the distance.


Entering the Lamar Valley


A herd of bison in the distance

The girls were excited to spot pronghorns, bison, mule deer, and even two moose as we drove through the valley. We were anxious to set up camp, though, so we didn’t make other stops.

Gardiner is small enough town that, much to Mike’s disappointment, is not even big enough to have its own hardware store. He has some repairs he’d like to make to the camper, but with the closest hardware 52 miles away, those might have to wait. Our “campground” here is a concession to the fact that the dog is with us and he is not welcome outside the parking areas while in Yellowstone. Dog boarding facilities, while easy to find for our other stops, are harder to locate for the Yellowstone area. Rocky Mountain Campground, a big parking area for RV’s set on top of a hill overlooking the entrance to the park, lacks the scenery of our previous stops, but they provide pet sitting if needed, so that’s where we ended up for this leg of the trip. It was nice to unload everything and get the cooking area organized. We ate the last frozen/thawing dinner from the coolers (enchiladas) and cooked up the apples left over from the lunch basket with some sugar and cinnamon. Mike had his first coffee in five days, and everybody got ready for bed showered and feeling good. The girls played with their DS’s and worked on their journals before turning in.

Final note:  When we pulled into our campground, the man who escorted us to our space asked from which direction we’d come in.  We told him we came in by way of the Beartooth.  He looked startled, looked at our camper, shook his head, and said, “Seriously?!  What fool told you to do that?”  He did agree it was an awesome drive. 

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