Our North American Trip - April to June 2010.
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Trip Report for Glacier National Park - Yellowstone, May 19 - 28

(This will be updated as and when the opportunity presents itself, and we’ll add photos when time permits.  It could be a bit disorganised at times due to infrequent Internet access!!)

Wednesday, 19 May:   Ta Ta Creek, Kimberley – Glacier National Park
Weather:
   Fine sunny day            Temp:  12 - 18oC

Scott made us some pancakes so we had banana and Canadian Maple Syrup on them – yummy.

By the time we packed up and left it was around 10am and initially drove to Cranbrook to get a couple of items from a local supermarket, keeping in mind we still had to cross the US Border.

We passed through the USA Boader around 12.30pm without any issues – happy that we had 6 bottles of wine and no fruit and why we had visited Canada.

As we crossed the border we immediately noticed the deterioration in the roads – virtually no shoulder on the sides of the road any longer and much rougher!!  As we travelled further into the USA the roads started to change for the better!  We stopped off at Café Jax – A had their pea and ham soup, was yummy - G had a Turkey & ham sandwich and a great chocolate milkshake.  He told the two women running the café he got their name from the "Trip adviser" website before we left NZ and they were rather amazed with that.

We stopped off at the “Safeway” supermarket in Whitefish to get some further groceries (the young guy encouraged me to apply for one of their “Club” cards so we could take advantage of all their discounts – not my concern how the admin team will handle our NZ details though, he said) before we arrived at our cabin at the Glaciers Mountain Resort at the Western entrance to Glacier National Park (4pm ish).  The woman owner has also been very helpful with a map and information about what to do in the area, since we arrived.  She also joined us for a quick “Hush” wine and a cracker with goats cheese spread, garlic hummus & avocado on.

Since arriving there have been at least 9 – 10 huge freight trains that have passed nearby on the very busy railway line - we managed to catch some photos of some of the freight trains and the Amtrack Train (at 8.30pm) as well, but it just whizzed by in comparison to the freight trains!  Ooops, and there's yet another freight train coming - plenty of horns as they pass!!

Unfortunately it sounds as if the weather is to deteriorate a little later tomorrow, so we will get going reasonably early in the morning to see as much as we can before it breaks.


 Click here for a slideshow of these photos Use arrow keys to navigate, right, left, and the up arrow to return to the first screen.


Thursday, 20 May:    Glacier National Park
Weather:
    cloudy with showers – very cold            Temp:  6 - 12oC

It was a bit of a shock waking up this morning and having to put on our winter clothes after having been in our summer clothes for the last 2 weeks!  It had rained during the night and snowed up in the mountains close by.

After having our own breakfast (Raisin Bran, banana & strawberries then toast) Graham caught up on some computer work (as it was rather cold and wet outside) before we ventured outside late morning.

We drove back to Hungry Horse then up the road to the Hungry Horse dam (huge) and the small power station.  Their Information Centre was not open for the summer season yet, then drove some miles south of the dam before turning around and driving out to West Glacier to find the Information Centre and check out the West Glacier Restaurant – both were closed and not due to open until 26 May (for their USA Memorial Day public holiday long weekend - Mon, 31 May).  Had a light lunch at a nearby café.

As we started to drive up the “Going to the Sun Road” we passed through the entrance to the Park and had to pay for a 7 day pass (US$15), as we drove up alongside Lake McDonald we also passed the Lake McDonald Lodge where the old Red Tour buses were parked outside (not currently running), stopped to look at some waterfalls before reaching the Avalanche Creek Trail of the Cedars.  As we drove toward this area there was a very obvious straight line of new snow, part way down and across all the mountain sides (where it snowed down to last night).  We walked around the Cedar Trail through some very old and large Red Cedar trees.  We also walked part way up the closed “Going to the Sun” Road (western side) before we drove back down to the Apgar Village and found an Information Centre was open - yippee.  It was great to get some more detailed info about the area.

We prepared our own dinner at the cabin (Italian sausage in tomato on pasta with a baby spinach salad, followed by strawberries, blueberries and yoghurt) – nice not having to go out for a restaurant meal.

In the evening there were an estimated 20 to 30 hummingbirds around the 3 feeders at the cabins.  Graham sat and photographed a number of them.  Very small, very pretty little birds with an amazing range of colours.

As Graham was sitting on the front deck waiting to hear the “Amtrack” train rattle past, the owners cat joined him.  Graham called Annette to come out and have a look at what he had, but she unfortunately shut the door while still locked so had to go find the owner to get another key so we could get back inside our cabin again.  In the meantime she took a good photo of G and the cat.

Not nearly so many trains passing by along the railway track close by tonight.

Today has been a mixed bag of weather, initially very cold and showery – sometimes hail and snow showers – early evening it fined up but the wind was still very cold.  It’s due to snow again tonight


Friday, 21 May:    Glacier National Park
Weather:
    cool but fine & cloudy most of the day – snow flakes higher up          Temp:  2 - 10oC

A bit of a slow start for Annette today, but after having our own breakfast (Raisin Bran, banana, blueberries & yoghurt, then toast – ricotta & avocado), we headed off to walk the Avalanche Creek Trail.  Before we left A made some sandwiches (ricotta, avocado, French salami & baby spinach), packed a banana, water bottles and a “Nature Valley” Oats’n Honey bar (left in our cabin for us).

As we drove up the “Going to the Sun Road” alongside Lake McDonald we were delayed a little due to some road works, parked and commenced walking up the Avalanche Creek Trail  and noticed a couple taking their dog with them on the trail (signs clearly state:  No dogs allowed.... and for a good reason - there are Grizzly & Black Bears up there!!). 

It took us 1hr 15mins to walk 3.5 km and climb just over 500ft to reach Avalanche Lake.  It was a lovely walk amongst the Red Cedar trees and when we reached Avalanche Lake the views of the lake and the surrounding mountains was spectacular.  There were many trees lying on the ground and across the river – they appear to have very shallow roots hence get blown over easily.

We found a seat beside the lake so eat our lunch there… and it was yummy.  Evidently the wind had just strengthened so it was quite cold close by the lake - it was snowing up higher and light snow drifts were blowing across the lake.

As we walked back along the track it was continually downhill (we didn’t notice we were continually climbing when we walked up) so getting back to our car was quite rapid, passing another couple taking a dog up the same track!!   

We arrived back at our cabin around 3.30pm.  We prepared our own dinner at the cabin again tonight (pork sirloin chops with a baby spinach salad and potatoes, followed by strawberries, blueberries and yoghurt)…. very nice too.  Had a Skype contact with Scott and June as we were preparing dinner – it was lovely to hear from them.


Satur
day, 22 May:    Glacier National Park
Weather:
    lovely cool fine day (despite forecast of rain & snow!)            Temp:  0 - 12oC

After our usual breakfast (Raisin Bran, banana, blueberries & yoghurt, then toast – ricotta & avocado), we drove north along the border of Glacier National Park to the little settlement of Polebridge.  This town consists of one shop, a few cabins and an out house (toilet) - that’s all.  The shop is called Polebridge Mercantile and sells a few clothing items, some basic grocery items, a few bottles of wine and a lot of baking.  They make many pastries, cookies and breads daily (which is why we went there).  Had a coffee each ($1) and a pastry (huckleberry bear foot & huckleberry chocolate pastries) for morning tea - purchased some cookies (huckleberry macaroons; double chocolate & oat bran and raisins + chocolate morsels on top), a spinach & blue cheese bun and a loaf of huckleberry & cinnamon beer bread, that came out of the oven as we watched.

On the drive back to West Glacier we stopped quite often to photograph the Rockies in the Park as the day was perfect and the mountains spectacular.  Tried to enquire about a helicopter ride but it had disappeared for the weekend (it was there on Thursday & Friday).

Back at our cabin we used the beer bread to make sandwiches for lunch – lovely bread with ricotta, salami, avocado & baby spinach.

Drove to the nearby town of Columbia Falls to restock with milk, bananas and yoghurt and came home for dinner – salad with leftovers from two nights ago.  Did a bit of tidying up and packing ready to leave early in the morning, and then had a Skype contact with Andrew and Lee, who had just got back to New York from Florida (been gaining more sailing skills).

It’s 9.30pm and the sun is just setting.


 

Sunday, 23 May:    Glacier National Park - Helena
Weather:
    lovely fine day – snow & rain up in the mountains            Temp:  4 - 15oC

We had our usual breakfast (Raisin Bran, banana, strawberries, blueberries, yoghurt & toast), A made us some sandwiches (ricotta, avocado, salami & baby spinach) to have on the road, we packed up and left our accommodation (near Western Glacier) by 8.45am for the eastern side of Glacier National Park.

As we drove along  highway 2 we stopped at  ‘Goat Lick Point’ to see if we could see any of the wild goats commonly viewed in the area – saw some at the top and some part way up a steep bank high above ‘Flathead River’.  We continued driving along the highway following a smaller river and the railway line over the Marias Pass (5200 ft) - saw a train going under many avalanche roofs along the railway line (to prevent snow avalanches blocking the railway line, as they slide off the mountainside).

We then drove to East Glacier Park and stopped for a coffee, muffin and toilet break – as we drove onto Kiowa we climbed to 6,000 ft getting great views of the mountains, roadway (very different trees) and surrounding areas – it had obviously snowed overnight – snow on the trees beside the road.  When we reached Saint Mary we stopped off at the visitors centre, then drove up alongside Saint Mary Lake on the Going-to-the-sun Road up to where it was closed (Jackson Glacier Overview).  As we drove up to that area the mountains were clouded in (it was snowing and raining), however after a while the snow drift moved on, the sun came out and the cloud lifted – we then got some great photos.  It was great being able to see the shape of the mountains.  We sat and ate our lunch while waiting to see if the clouds would lift.

Then drove up to Many Glacier – as we were near the end of the road it started to rain and snow quite hard – we almost gave up and drove back but realised the clouds were starting to break and the sun was trying to get through so hung about for several minutes – yes the snow did clear, the sun came out and the clouds started to gradually lift off some of the mountains.  There is a Montana saying “If you don’t like the weather then wait 30 minutes:” and how true that has proven to be on more than one occasion!  Swiftcurrant Lake was nearby and on its shoreline was a huge lodge – the proximity of the lodge, lake and high mountains made some great scenery – a waterfall was also close by.  Close by to the lodge were a flock of goats taking a keen interest in anyone who stopped close to them – obviously looking for food.

As we drove back down Many Glacier we got some great views of the lake and the mountains -   the lake level appeared to be very low for this time of the year, with the snow melt nearly over.  We finally left the area around 3pm to start driving toward Helena – 3.5hrs drive.

As we drove back toward the Saint Mary area Flattop Mountain stood out very clearly – one gets a very different view of mountains from so many different angles!

Soon after leaving the mountain area, we drove through a little town called Browning - it was quite likely (by the untidiness around the buildings and houses and all the old cars lying in their backyards) an Indian community – in Blackfeet Indian Reservation area!

The area between Browning and Helena greatly lacked trees of any kind and was mainly only grass on the land and sometimes the road was straight for miles.  It wasn’t until we got much closer to Helena that we started to see trees growing on the farmland.

We arrived at Helena around 6.30pm, checked into the Hampton Inn - nice hotel (we were given one of the 4 largest rooms in the hotel – huge room), did a load of washing (hadn’t done any washing for last 5 days) and hung it out in our room (amazing where G is able to hang up a clothes line in a hotel room), before driving to Lucca’s Italian Restaurant for dinner at 7.45pm  – delicious meals  (A: Halibut fish on veges – G: Chicken with marinara sauce), and it was so nice to have such a nice salad prior to our mains (the usual in the US) – A got the ingredients for the raspberry dressing they had used on the salad!!  Prices were quite reasonable and good wines by the glass were very cheap for a good restaurant - $5 -$6 for a large glass.

According to the GPS we drove for 7¼ hours today, the longest day we have had on the trip, but worth every minute of it.

 
 

Monday, 24 May:    Helena – West Yellowstone  (6,600 ft above sea level)
Weather:
    rain, showers, cloudy and cold – snowed early evening in Yellowstone            Temp: 2 - 8oC

We woke up this morning to rain and much cooler temperatures.  Had a very nice complementary breakfast  at the Hampton Inn before packing up ready to leave then driving down to the local ‘Safeway’ Supermarket to stock up on some food items before we left Helena for West Yellowstone as we suspect the we will not get such a choice of food items in supermarkets there.

As it was now close to lunchtime we stopped at a local restaurant and had some vegetable soup (A) and Jalapeno cheddar burger (G) then filled the car with petrol (10c gallon cheaper at the Safeway supermarket petrol station).

After driving for quite a while we noticed we were passing a place called the ‘Wheat Montana Bakery & Deli’ – stating on the sign they “sow it, grow it & dough it” – we were expressing an interest in their grain bread so a woman gave us a slice of each of the 2 breads with some buter so we could try them and decide which loaf of bread we wanted – what service!!  It was a large complex on it’s own in the middle of a farming area – a large number of local people were having their lunch there – must have been good!

Closer to Yellowstone in the Gallatin National Forest area, we passed the Madison Earthquake Canyon  where an earthquake (50 yrs ago) had blocked off an area and is now a lake with lots of dead trees sticking up through the water.   

As we got closer to West Yellowstone it started to rain again (snowing up higher), arriving at our accommodation – the Lazy G Motel, around 4.30pm.  The owner was very pleasant when we checked in – it’s a cosy room with a small kitchenette and bathroom.  The kitchen had an unusual multipurpose appliance.  The enamel top had a large sink and three hot plates and underneath instead of an oven there was a refrigerator - it proved to be a very convenient device..

Quickly unpacked and drove down to the local Chamber of Commerce (Information Centre) to get some maps and other helpful info on the Yellowstone area.  Talked with a staff member about what roads were likely to be open in the Park tomorrow.  We also drove down to the Yellowstone Park Entrance to purchase a 7 day entrance pass to save having to do that tomorrow when we go into the park.

The weather had deteriorated to the extent that it was now snowing and it was really cold (freezing) - out came the gloves, woollen hat, scarf etc.  We had a look around at the West Yellowstone shopping area and checked out a few of the restaurants we had on our list (researched before we left  NZ).  Had dinner at the Outpost Restaurant (it was nice and warm inside) – G: ½ chicken meal & A: spaghetti bolognaise – good prices – probably due to it not being licensed – no wine or beer!


Click here to see slideshow of these photos

Tuesday, 25 May:    West Yellowstone (Yellowstone National Park)
Weather:
    snow sleet, cloudy & then fine             Temp: 2 - 10oC

First thing this morning it was sleeting with snow and freezing.

We had our usual breakfast (Raisin Bran, banana, strawberries, blueberries & yoghurt then toast).  Just before 9am we went to the IMAX Theatre to watch a film on Yellowstone National Park – we were hoping it may give us some great ideas on what to do and see in the Park, but it was just the history of Yellowstone (first National Park in the World).  Went back to the Information Centre to check which roads were open today and a very helpful woman drew on a map with different coloured highlighters suggesting what we could do for 3 of the 4 days we are in Yellowstone National Park.

We returned to our Motel, made some sandwiches (ricotta, avocado, salami & baby spinach) to have for lunch as we were going down to the Old Faithful Geyser.  We left around 10.45am – started driving inside the Park and came across lots of cars stopped on and at the side of the road – there was a Bald Eagle sitting high up in a dead tree and a nest was on top of another tree.  Further down the road we passed a herd of deer (quite a distance from the road), then came up behind a lot of cars stopped on the road – they were being very cautious as there was a herd of Bison on the side of the road, some crossed the road then crossed back again, then they all walked into a drive off piece of road – got some great photos from the car.

We then drove down to the Old Faithful Geyser arriving around 11.45am, checked at the Information Centre to see when it was due to erupt again (within 20 minutes of 12.53pm), so we had our lunch in the car, then wrapped up with woollen hats, scarf, gloves etc (A had 5 layers of clothing on) before we went over by the geyser and waited on a seat (with many others)… almost on the dot of 12.53pm it started to shoot up in the air – erupting quite high for approx 2 minutes (no longer).

We then walked along a board walk and paved trail for approx 2.2km passing many geysers and hot pools.  As we walked along the paved pathway between Firehole River and Grand Geyser we came across a heard of Buffalo/Bison, some with calves – as we waited some of them came very close to the boardwalk, in fact very close to A.  We continued to walk on the boardwalks and paved walkway to Morning Glory Pool at the end, then returned to the Old Faithful Geyser area via Daisy Geyser (very inactive when we went passed).  It is interesting that about two thirds of all the World’s geysers are in Yellowstone.  We can’t determine whether the bison are actually buffalo here and no-one seems certain, apparently it is the same animal but it depends which side of the Rockies you are on what they are called!

Before we left the area we dropped in to have a look around the Old Faithful Inn (very old hotel) and the Old Faithful Lodge (newer one) , calling into the bathroom before we left the area (woman’s toilets each had 8 rolls of toilet paper in them – expecting lots of visitors).  Around 4pm we left the Old Faithful Geyser area to start driving back to our Motel, stopping off at the Black Sand Basin – geysers & bacteria mats,  Midway Geyser Basin - bacteria mats (so much steam we couldn’t see very much) and then Fountain Paint Pot (mud pools, geysers).

Soon after leaving this area we saw a Bison and her very newly born calf close to the roadside between that and the river – turned around so we could wind down the window to take some photos.  We then drove around the Firehole Canyon Drive, stopping a few times to see the canyon and some falls on the Firehole River.  We stopped a little further on to photograph some deer.  Our last stop for the day was back at the Bald Eagle sitting on it’s nest on top of a tree (better views of mum sitting on their nest this time) and the male sitting high up in another tree.

We got back to our motel around 7pm and prepared a meal.  G had a talk with the owner re not being able to access wifi – working on it and hopefully we will be able to access it tomorrow.

This morning it was really cold until mid afternoon then warmed quite a bit more while the sun was out – early evening it was still reasonably warm in comparison to the morning.


 

Wednesday, 26 May:    Yellowstone National Park
Weather:
    fine & sunny           Temp: 4 - 17oC

Had our usual breakfast and got away at 8.45am.  We headed north into Yellowstone to Mammoth Hot Springs.  Had a 15 minute wait on the way at roadworks where they are rebuilding a large bluff and building a new bridge.  Many stops on the way where wildlife close to the road that everyone stops to view, many vehicles completely blocking the road!   Many Bison/buffalo but some Deer and Elk.  Visited the Visitors’ centre at Mammoth, took some photos of a large Great Horned Owl that was nesting in a nearby tree, and then walked around the amazing silica terraces formed by the hot springs above the village.  Drove on east towards Tower Junction, on the way we saw a black bear and viewed some falls, stopping to eat our sandwiches overlooking a little pond with ducks on – only saw one bison but lots of swallows over lunch.  We continued east into the Lamar River Valley where there is a lot of wildlife.  Saw many more bison, a few elk and deer, and then saw a bison who had just given birth to a calf (one can tell there’s something going on by the crowds and large camera lenses on the side of the road).

Drove back to Tower Junction and headed south to Canyon Village going over the Dunraven Pass (nearly 9000 ft high).  Stopped before the pass to view the start of the Yellowstone Grand Canyon (quite spectacular) that runs up past Canyon Village, and then viewed the falls at Tower Fall along with a mountain sheep and it’s lamb running all over a steep bank.  A lot of snow on the sides of the road through the pass which explains why it was closed for the past few days.

Called into the Visitors’ Centre at Canyon Village and then went a couple of miles north to view the Lower and Upper Falls in the Grand Canyon.  Spectacular falls with good viewing opportunities.  The Lower Falls are apparently higher that the Niagara Falls (not nearly as wide though).

Drove home via Norris and had to wait 15 to 20 minutes to get through the roadworks again.  Slow trip home as many bison just wandering along the road heading for their night-time pastures.

Got home soon after 7pm and had a lovely dinner – more of yesterday’s with a nice California Pinot Noir that we had bought the first day out of San Francisco, weeks ago.


 

Thursday, 27 May:    Yellowstone National Park
Weather:
    cloudy & showery most of day                Temp: 4 - 14oC

Went to Running Bear Pancake House down (on corner nearby) for breakfast – very nice.  Had a slack morning visiting a few shops separately before meeting up at the IMAX Theatre at 1pm to see the ”Bears” film (covered Black and Grizzly Bears in North America and Polar Bears) – very interesting and we could relate to the Grizzly Bears). 

We then went next door to the Grizzly & Wolf Discovery Centre (A not-for-profit Wildlife Park & Educational facility) – saw several wolves (parents and young) and several bears.  Several staff were putting out feed then covering it up with rocks and wood, a yellow rubbish bin with screw top lid (a diversion) and a hopefully bear proof metal container (to test the container to see it is bear proof – they didn’t get into it while we were there!).  One of the bears very skilfully unscrewed the top off the yellow bin.  We also saw several adult and young wolfs. 

There were several containers in the park that had been tested by the bears (one belonging to Waste Management) – many buckled and broken.  The Wildlife Park co-operates with organisation trying to produce bear proof products by allowing bears at the park to test them, it keeps the bears amused as well.

Went to Sydney’s Mountain Bistro for dinner as it was 2nd best restaurant in West Yellowstone on Trip Adviser – initially our feta, dried tomato & basil crostini;  A’s salad was brilliant along with vege pasta with chicken;  G’s Thai Vegetable soup along with a Thai curry chicken.  Lovely food.  Received a huge glass of Zinfandel wine.


 

Friday, 28 May:    Yellowstone National Park
Weather:
    initial showers, cloudy & sunny, rain later in the day           Temp: 4 - 12oC

Yellowstone has been amazing and the highlight of our trip.  Glacier National Park was also special but we agree that Yellowstone surpasses it.  To be fair, they are totally different Parks, Glacier has amazing mountains and glaciers with lots of snow, whereas Yellowstone has a great variety of geothermal displays, surrounded by a ring of somewhat distant snow capped mountains and several high passes (8,000 ft) within.  The big plus for Yellowstone is that it has lots of wildlife that can be easily seen and others that you may see if you are.

Up at 6.30am to a wet morning (A was ready to get up at 6am!), had cereal & fruit and toast for breakfast and left our motel at 8.15am (earliest ever).   The weather rapidly improved and remained great till mid / late afternoon when the rain returned.  Drove through to Norris, sighting an Elk and calf, a slow trip through the road works and stopping off at Artists Paint Pots just south of Norris (not as spectacular as the Fountain Paint Pots).  The Norris Geyser Basin was very interesting with lots of small to medium geysers frequently erupting – while walking through the area we suddenly spotted a buck Elk (male) running through the Geyser Basin. 

We then drove to Canyon Area to the Brink of the Upper Falls (great views of Upper Falls), then drove along the North Rim Drive initially stopping at the Brink of the Lower Falls – the walk down to the view point was 3/8 mile with a 600ft drop (we felt good passing others who were much younger than us on the climb back up & climbing is not so easy up at 7,500 ft) - amazing views of the Lower Falls and Canyon – once at the top again there were two female Elk grazing.  We then visited Lookout Point (more terrific views of the Lower Falls and Canyon (saw an Osprey nesting on top of a high point in the Canyon), drove on and stopped at the Grand View lookout (more great views of the Canyon and also saw a Marmot eating grass near the entrance.  With all the stairs and steep walkways our calf muscles have suffered a little today.  A truly amazing area – the snow / ice around the Lower Falls made them even more spectacular!

We stopped off at the Canyon Village Visitor Centre to use their facilities and sat in the car to have our lunch (1.15pm).  We then drove south stopping off at the Sulphur Caldron (starting to lightly rain), passed the large Yellowstone Lake (still frozen over, except close to the edge), stopped off and had a wander around West Thumb Geyser Basin (many non active geysers).  As we started to head back to our motel we drove across the Craig Pass (8,262 ft), passed by Old Faithful which was erupting as we approached, and as we approached Madison the rain was now quite heavy and few animals were anywhere to be seen – rather different from the other 2 days we were on our way back to West Yellowstone early in the evening ( 6pm & 7pm respectively) we had to stop for Bison walking along or across the road – some of the delays were quite lengthy, but they have the right of way.  The speed for all vehicles within the National Park is 45 miles ph (70 km).

Back at the motel we had more of the sausage & tomato mix with a baby spinach salad followed by strawberries, blueberries & yoghurt – such nice flavours.  We had this with some very nice Quails’ Gate (Kelowna winery, Okanagan Valley) Gewurztraminer. 

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