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Bozeman, Montana – National Parks Crash Pad

Bozeman, Montana – National Parks Crash Pad

Bozeman, Montana was sort of an accidental stop on our trip. We wanted to stay near Yellowstone National Park or Grand Teton National Park, maybe Jackson Hole, but at the peak of summer tourist season we just couldn’t find the right place for us. Bozeman seemed like the best town that was reasonably close to the parks, so we spent a few days there as a National Parks crash pad.

It turns out that Bozeman is pretty happening. Travel and Leisure named Bozeman one of its best places to travel in 2016. It’s a nice-sized town, close to the mountains and with a distinct hipster feel. We didn’t have too much time to explore Bozeman, but we packed in a few fun activities in our limited time.


National Parks

Most of our time in Bozeman was spent discovering nearby Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks. You can read about our adventures in Grand Teton here and Yellowstone here. Bozeman was a bit of a haul from both, but certainly not TOO far. It’s close enough that both of our parks trips were single day endeavors.


In Town

We ended up eating a lot on the road back and forth to the parks and cooked a bit in our Airbnb, but we did venture out for a few meals. When we saw the picnic setup at Feed Cafe we had to stop. I had a savory oatmeal with bison short ribs, mushrooms and a fried egg to start my day. We also headed to Ted’s for a quick steak, and grabbed some really delicious burritos at La Parrilla. And I couldn’t leave town without trying some of the famous Granny’s Gourmet Donuts (totally lived up to the hype).

We also did a little shopping along Main Street. The many outdoor outfitter shops were fun to see, and the “do not load” buffalo plaque was the best item I spotted. This was shortly after some visitors to Yellowstone had put a baby bison in the back of their car because they thought it was too cold. After this human interference the bison was euthanized. Never touch wild animals, for your safety and theirs.

I didn’t want to leave without checking out the Museum of the Rockies, so on our last evening in town I took a quick trip there. I spent most of my time checking out the many dinosaur fossils and models. Montana is the site of many important geologic and fossil discoveries and it’s wonderful to have so many on display.


New Experiences

The reason we had to take day trips to Grand Teton and Yellowstone was because of forest fires in the area. I had never been close to a forest fire, so this was a new experience. I figured the fires were far enough away they wouldn’t impact me. Wrong. I woke up one day, took a look out the window and thought I was on Mars. The sky was a hazy red color and the sun was a bright red ball. It looked exactly like low, translucent clouds in front of the sun. Instead it was thick smoke, creating the spooky looking sky. It was totally foreign and totally weird.

The other new experience we had was learning how to fly fish in the Gallatin River. We took a class through Montana Whitewater. No one else had signed up for our time slot, so Eric and I got a private lesson. Fly fishing is a really interesting, involved sport that takes a lot of practice. I was simultaneously frustrated by its complexity and excited to learn and practice more. I’m looking forward to more fly fishing in the future.


After cramming a whole lot of activities into less than a week in Bozeman, it was off to Kalispell which would be home base for exploring Glacier National Park.

Yellowstone National Park in a Single Day

Yellowstone National Park in a Single Day

Can you see Yellowstone in a day? Most say no, I say YES!


The Fire

If you’ve been following along with our trip, you’ll know that our planned trip to Grand Teton National Park and Yellowstone National Park got all kinds of messed up because of forest fires. Sure, it’s inconvenient, but when you head out into nature, you have to be flexible. Forest fires (that aren’t human-set) are an important part of forest succession and as such are necessary. Lightning set the Berry Fire that changed our itinerary so it was left to burn, managed to protect people and property.


The Challenge

Because of this fire, the only way we could really do Yellowstone was to drive down from Bozeman, MT and see as much as we could in a single day, returning to Bozeman that same day. Scouring the internet for single day info was discouraging, since pretty much every single blog post, travel guide, etc. that I could find stated definitively that you could not see both northern and southern Yellowstone in one day. But, since we had no choice we packed up the car and said challenged accepted!


The New Plan

Our best shot at seeing as much as possible involved driving from Bozeman, Montana to the north gate of the park, then following the scenic drive around the park clockwise to the west gate. We would stop for attractions along the way and take a side drive to Lamar Valley. We knew it would be an extremely long day. So we decided to take the dogs along! No dogs allowed on trails, so no hiking. That was OK, we wouldn’t have time for hiking anyway.

Below you’ll see our stops (zoom into the map to see individual markers) and I’ll add timestamps from our trip that you can use to plan your own Yellowstone adventure. Keep scrolling to see pics, videos and read about our awesome Yellowstone day trip! To enlarge any photo, just click on it!


Lamar Valley (7:45 AM – 9:15 AM)

We entered Yellowstone National Park at 6:38 AM headed straight for Lamar Valley. We knew our best chance at seeing wildlife was around sunrise. Our early start paid off as we watched hundreds of bison and pronghorn graze in the valley. My single biggest piece of advice for visiting Yellowstone is to get yourself out to Lamar Valley early in the morning, it’s so worth it. We drove all the way to Pebble Creek Campground where we turned around and headed back to the Grand Loop Road (this road is closed in the winter, so this trip is only possible in the summer months).


Tower Junction (9:30 AM)

We drove a short distance to Tower Junction and stopped at Roosevelt Lodge for breakfast. I don’t think I’ll ever get tired of huckleberries. The huckleberry pancakes at the lodge had just the right amount of berries to keep the pancakes sweet and tart without being overwhelming. The lodge is a cool place to hang out while you wait for your take out breakfast with a small gift shop, general store (where we bought a giant bag of huckleberry twizzlers – a critical component to our day trip!) and nice porch complete with rocking chairs. After a bit of a wait we had our takeout breakfast and were on our way to our next stop.


Tower Fall (10:30 AM)

A super quick stop recommended by a ranger. I don’t have a good picture to share here, but this spot is important to the history of Yellowstone. Allegedly, a painting of Tower Fall was an influencing factor in Yellowstone becoming the first national park. We’re lucky so many artists were willing to travel to such remote locations to capture and share nature’s beauty with others. I suppose they were our historical instagrammers.

Artist Point (11:40 AM)

You’ve probably seen a picture from Artist Point, whether on Instagram or another medium. It’s an extremely popular viewpoint and we got a feeling for why in person. This viewpoint allows for a great view of the Lower Falls of the Yellowstone River in the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone. These views always astound me when I think about how water carved this deep canyon. Water seems so soft, neutral, weak, harmless. Then it moves mountains. Amazing.

We had a special treat at this stop when a ranger pointed out a porcupine napping in a tree. This guy really knows how to pick a scenic napping spot.


Upper Falls of the Yellowstone (11:58 AM)

After viewing the Lower Falls we took a quick minute to view the Upper Falls of the Yellowstone. This waterfall was really difficult to photograph. At almost noon, the bright summer sun was reflecting strongly off of the roaring waterfall. The whole scene of sun, water and rock was beautiful and worth the quick stop.

After viewing some astonishing but fairly routine natural features, it was time to see some of the weirder parts of the park.

Upper Falls of the Yellowstone River
Upper Falls of the Yellowstone River


Mud Volcano & Dragon Mouth Spring (12:20 PM)

Finally, we started to see some of the truly bizarre geothermal wonders of Yellowstone. Mud volcano is a hot, stinky pool that looks like a giant mud puddle. The humidity and sulfur smell that come along with this pool are not offensive to, rather welcomed by visitors who are too interested in the bizarre-ness of the park to care. This area of the park is also home to the Dragon Mouth Spring which was one of my favorite geothermal features in the whole park. Gases move hot spring water in this cave, emitting a low rumbling sound.

Next stop, more weird!


West Thumb Geyser Basin (1:15 PM)

West Thumb is a collection of geothermal features along the western shore of Yellowstone Lake. This stop is a double whammy where you can see some curious geyers and springs while also taking in sweeping views of the largest high elevation lake on the continent. A boardwalk a little short of a mile leads visitors through the geyser basin and is worth the time to walk through the varied pools. There is no protection from the sun on this boardwalk so make sure you’ve got sunscreen and water before leaving the car.


Old Faithful/Lunch (Lunch: 2:08 PM, Geyser: 3:17 PM)

I know you’ve been waiting for it and yes, we saw the famous Old Faithful. The geyser is unpredictable, but there is generally a window of time that gives visitors a good idea of when to be alert for an eruption. We just missed one, so had some time to kill. Luckily there is a large general store where we grabbed some lunch while waiting for the next “show”. Shortly after 3:15 PM we finally saw the legendary Old Faithful erupt in a furious spew of steam and water. Sure, there are more unusual and interesting sights to see in this huge park, but I still think it’s worth your time to stop and gawk with all the other tourists at this geologic marvel.


Grand Prismatic Spring (4:00 PM)

Saved the best for last. Grand Prismatic Spring in the Midway Geyser Basin was my favorite feature in the park. It’s a good thing it was cool. The parking lot was packed and we ended up parking about a mile down the road and hoofing it to the viewing area. The unique and extremely delicate microbial mats around the largest spring in the country take on different colors depending on the concentration of substances and temperature of runoff water, and are in an order that creates a rainbow effect. This spring was unreal – it’s hard to comprehend how something this spectacular occurs in nature.

The boardwalk viewing area for Grand Prismatic Spring also takes visitors next to Excelsior Geyser Crater, another interesting formation. The water in this spring bubbles while steam rises from the crystal clear water. It almost looks inviting. Except for the 200 F water temperature, that is. This also appears to be the largest umbrella cemetery in the world. Looking closely at the bottom of the pool you start to notice umbrellas and sun hats littering the floor of the crater.


Exiting the Park

From Midway Geyser Basin we headed to the West Entrance of the park and headed back to Bozeman. It was obviously a long and tiring day, but we were able to see the wildlife so famous in the northern part of the park as well as the geothermal features in the southern part of the park in a single day.

While I said we didn’t really hike, we did walk two boardwalks that were 0.8 and 0.9 miles long. Combined with all other walking through the day we spent a long time on our feet on this car trip. I wore flip flops and was comfortable, but plan ahead for what you need to enjoy your trip. Packing snacks and drinks will also make this long trip more comfortable. Make sure not to feed any of the wildlife you might encounter in the park.

Thanks for coming along on a recap of our trip! I hope this is helpful in planning a quick trip to Yellowstone!

Have you ever traveled to Yellowstone National Park? What were your favorite sights? Tell me about them in the comments!

Grand Teton National Park in a Single Day

Grand Teton National Park in a Single Day

Despite your best plans, nature always wins. We had planned a trip departing from our Airbnb in Bozeman, Montana to Grand Teton National Park, then spending the night camping at the border of Grand Teton and Yellowstone, and exploring Yellowstone the following day. Well, Mother Nature had other plans. A forest fire evacuated our campground and we had to quickly adapt our plans. Luckily this was pretty easy, and we did a quick drive through of Grand Teton on our way from Salt Lake City to Bozeman.

Jackson Hole

First, I have to talk about Jackson Hole. What the actual heck. I was really excited to visit Jackson Hole, and we considered staying in an Airbnb there. To put it mildly, it was a disappointment. I’m not sure what I expected, but I couldn’t get over how flashy and obnoxious the main part of town was. I really think I’m more suited to dirty mountain towns like Moab rather than these sparkly mountain resorts (Breckenridge excluded, I love that place). So after a quick buzz through town I was ready to keep moving to get to Grand Teton National Park.


Grand Teton National Park

Grand Teton seems to be weirdly overshadowed by Yellowstone, its neighbor to the north. But this park is really worth the trip south. Grand Teton National Park gives off more of a calm, quiet, yet still overwhelmingly impressive vibe than Yellowstone. Huge peaks like Grand Teton and serene glacial lakes like Jenny Lake are focal points of the park. There is so much to do and see in this park that you could easily spend many days or weeks here. We had about…half a day. Could we really see the park in a day? YES! And I’ll tell you how we did it below.


Jenny Lake

After a quick stop at the park Visitors Center we headed up to see the famous Jenny Lake. From the Jenny Lake Overlook we were able to take in the beautiful lake and look across to the dramatic Cascade Canyon. Teewinot Mountain, Grand Teton, Symmetry Spire, Mount St. John, Rockchuck Peak and other mountains rose quickly and sharply from the flat lake in the foreground. All covered in haze from the nearby forest fires.


Snake River (Oxbow Bend)

Our next stop was along the Snake River at Oxbow Bend. This river is powerful, complicated and over 1000 miles long. Created by volcanic and glacial activity, the river looks calm and inviting but can actually be quite fast moving and dangerous. Since this was only a day trip through the park we weren’t able to join a rafting tour, but we’d like to float down this river someday. Even though you’d only be moving a few feet from the river bank I imagine you get an entirely different perspective on this area from the water.


Schwabacher Road

Our last stop was by far the most exciting of the day. Schwabacher Road is a great place to visit for some mountain reflection pictures in the river. While yes, that was true and pretty, there was a much more exciting sight to see. A mama moose and two babies! As with all wild animals, you need to keep your distance. The same goes for moose, especially a mother with young moose. Between a mother and her calves is the most dangerous position you can be in and should always be avoided. Luckily there was plenty of room between us and this little moose family as they ate at the edge of the river. It was great to see other observers giving the moose plenty of space, too.

There was so much moose excitement I really didn’t pay much attention to getting a good picture of the mountains reflecting in the river. Maybe next time.


On To Bozeman

Despite our love of hiking, we weren’t able to do any in Grand Teton National Park. We were traveling with our two dogs who aren’t allowed on hiking trails in the park. However I would love to return to do some hiking in the future. After our half day auto adventure through the park we were off to our next stop, Bozeman, Montana!

Sunset on the road to Bozeman
Sunset on the road to Bozeman

Have you visited Jackson Hole, Wyoming or Grand Teton National Park? What did you see and do there? Any other recommendations for a single or multi day visit? Tell me about it in the comments!

City Creek Park, Salt Lake City, Utah | 52 Hike Challenge – Hike 21

City Creek Park, Salt Lake City, Utah | 52 Hike Challenge – Hike 21

I made it to Hike 21 of my 52 Hike Challenge! For this hike I headed to City Creek Park. This trail is smack in the middle of Salt Lake City. I love how accessible the outdoors is in Salt Lake City. Even though it’s in an urban area, City Creek Park feels like you’re much more isolated.

The trail does start in an urban, residential area, but as you move along it becomes progressively more secluded.

I loved the little critter footprints on the footpath along City Creek. As you leave the city sidewalks behind, you enter beautiful Memory Grove Park, which was full of historical markers and memorials. I tried to balance wanting to look at all of the monuments with moving forward, but would love to dedicate more time to exploring this park someday.

As the trail leaves the park, you are finally on a more traditional dirt path trail. Leashes aren’t required in this section and on the hot afternoon I hiked there were a ton of dogs going hog wild in the cool waters of City Creek. It was fun to watch and distracted me from the triple digit heat a bit!

This was a super quick out and back for me, but this is actually quite a long trail that you could hike all day. Do you have any favorite urban hiking locations? Tell me about them in the comments!

The Roadtrip Begins!

The Roadtrip Begins!

Annnnnd…we’re off. The first stop on our nomadic life adventure was Salt Lake City. This is quite a haul from Chicago so we broke up the drive into four manageable days, with a little sightseeing thrown in. We are frequently asked how the dogs travel. Well…you can see below that they seem to handle the road just fine.

Our route took us across the southern edge of the entire state of Minnesota. I thought this would be an uneventful leg of the trip, which it was, with one big exception. A “rainbow” contained within a single cloud. It was a bizarre sight. This uncommon phenomenon is called cloud iridescence. When a cloud’s properties and the water droplets/ice crystals inside are just right, light diffraction causes us to see colors in the cloud. It was an amazing sight to see and a fun way to start our trip.

Our second day of travel (my birthday!) included some more sightseeing. We were traveling across South Dakota from Sioux Falls to Spearfish. Between these stops we visited Badlands National Park as well as Mount Rushmore.

The Badlands was an incredible landscape. We only had time to do the scenic drive through the park, but I would love to do some hiking there, over the fascinating geologic features in the park. However, the scenic drive gave us ample opportunity to gawk at the unfamiliar landscape and some of the park’s wildlife, namely prairie dogs and bighorn sheep.

Once we had passed through the Badlands it was off to Mount Rushmore. I have to admit: I’ve always wanted to visit Mt. Rushmore, but…I don’t get it. What a weird monument. Four dead presidents carved into a mountain in the Black Hills National Forest. Really, in the middle of nowhere. But, as a history and outdoor lover, I had to check this weirdo monument out!

We couldn’t take the dogs up to the monument so we took turns making the short walk to the viewing area while the other watched the dogs. I have to say I think the dogs were more of a hit with kids than the monument 🙂 One more thing…if you visit, get the ice cream.

Our third day of travel started with a visit to the Days of ’76 Museum in Deadwood and a hike to Roughlock Falls in Spearfish Canyon. The museum displayed great information and artifacts from the history of Deadwood; a fascinating gold rush town. The hike was a stunner that I’ll talk about in a separate post as part of my 52 Hike Challenge.

After these stops it was time to cross the state line into Wyoming and visit Devil’s Tower AKA Bear Lodge. A 3-way debate still rages about how Devil’s Tower was actually formed, but all theories agree that this geologic feature was formed by magma forcing its way through other rock formations. American Indians had many connections to and names for this place. Several tribes called it Bear Lodge and there are many stories about the creation of this place according to each tribe’s religious and historical oral history. Ceremonies still take place at Bear Lodge and each summer climbing is suspended for a month to respect Indian religious traditions. We also had our first bison sighting near Devil’s Tower! So exciting. I love these creatures!

After our quick visit to Devil’s Tower we had a long day traveling across Wyoming to the small town of Rawlins, our last stop before SLC!

Our 4th and final day of travel did not include any sightseeing, only our much anticipated arrival in Salt Lake City! After four days and a couple thousand miles, we made it!

52 Hike Challenge – Hike 17 – Route 66: A Geographic Journey, Towanda, Illinois

52 Hike Challenge – Hike 17 – Route 66: A Geographic Journey, Towanda, Illinois

When I was in high school, I had a very influential teacher. He continues to be an important mentor to this day. But back in the “olden days”, he inspired me to become involved in a new project of his: transforming a section of Historic Route 66 from barricaded pavement to an educational linear park. It was a big task, but if you’ve ever met Mr. Walk you know not to underestimate him. The man gets things done.

My first hands on exposure to the project was pulling weeds after school one day. I know that doesn’t sound captivating, but it was. I was immediately hooked on the history and romance of traveling this historic road. Thinking about it now, it was probably the earliest seed of adult wanderlust in my brain. I spent many hours over the next few years working on creating informational markers, staining benches (so much staining!), planting beautiful gardens and broadening my knowledge of the Mother Road.

When I was a senior in high school we embarked on one of our biggest projects: designing, painting and installing eight 4 ft x 8 ft murals, one representing each state Route 66 passes through. Great care was taken to make sure these murals would weather as slowly as possible. Roofed shelters and UV-blocking plexiglass were installed with each mural, and it’s great to see each piece hold up pretty well over the last fifteen years.

For Hike 17 of my 52 Hike Challenge I revisited my beloved park, and took some photos so I could share the experience! I know some of you reading were involved in the early stages of this project. I hope you enjoy seeing your work still shining in Towanda, Illinois!

The trail starts with a trio of flagpoles flying the US, Illinois and Route 66 flags. There is also a welcome sign, informational pamphlets in several languages and a guest book that has been signed by people from all over the world. I’m not the only one captivated by the Mother Road.

As you travel along the path, you’ll see large gardens with labels on many of the plants, trees planted on the roadside (many with memorial markers), Burma Shave signs, informational placards, birdhouses, benches to rest on and the murals.

The murals are placed in the order in which you would travel the states if you were starting the Route 66 drive in Chicago and finishing in L.A.

I’m so grateful to have had teachers who valued service learning, and I’m especially grateful I was able to work on a project that is still thriving. It’s great to be able to visit, but it’s also great to know there are many other people learning about and enjoying the project as well.

Have you ever traveled Route 66 or participated in a historical/travel/outdoor service project in your community? I’d love to hear about it in the comments!

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