Our stay in South Dakota was stimulating, Deb and I both agreed that it’s an area we could easily comeback to and spend more time adventuring in the Black Hills, Custer State Park and the Rapid City area.
First stop in Wyoming was Devils Tower National Park. Only a short distance off I-90, we rolled the Black Pearl into the park to discover the visitor center had parking restrictions for “big rigs”. Our hopes of getting up there meant disconnecting the Jeep. Since it was overcast and not a good day for the iconic photo-op, we decided to park in the overflow lot, eat lunch at the base of the huge monolith, then moved on down the road.
In our travels we try to mix up our overnight stays. Whenever possible we take advantage of military base RV parks (Security & Amenities). We have also had success staying at Army Corp Of Engineer (ACOE) campgrounds because of their proximity to a reservoir/lake. Everyone has an opinion about KOA. Ours has been a positive experience. We got the annual membership and enjoy their benefits. Keep in mind, NOT all KOAs are created equal, each is independently owned and operated. We have only had a single bad experience in our travels. Yes, you will be paying a premium rate when you are only minutes from a National Park, but it’s worth every cent. Location, location, location!
In general, State parks have been a positive experience. Some states charge extra for being a non-resident (NY) while others give a significant senior discount (TN). County parks are another little gold mine, typically well maintained by the local government and conveniently located near town and easily accessible to the major highways. I will feature our boondock adventures at National Forest, Bureau of Land Management (BLM) camping and some more details on State parks in a future blog.
So, a perfect segue to where dropped anchor for the night at Mikesell-Potts Recreation Area County park on Lake De Smet near Buffalo, Wyoming. Deb found this gem (courtesy of Google Maps). We were virtually parked on the lake with an unobstructed view, a covered picnic table, and a breath-taking sunset for a mere ten bucks a night. It was a perfect way to split up our drive to Yellowstone National Park, our next destination.
Interstate-90 allows pit-stops at significant historical landmarks along the way. Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument can be seen from the highway. As we entered the park, we quickly discovered two things, very limited parking for motor-homes due to the number of tour buses that were present and since this is also the Custer National Cemetery, dogs were NOT allowed on the grounds. (NOT even in the parking lot!). So, a quick trip to the Visitor Center to get some park literature and postcards, a few photos of the cemetery and we continued our day’s journey. With a little preparation ahead of time this could have been prevented but what have you got to lose.
Our camping destination was the Livingston KOA in Paradise Valley, right on the Yellowstone River, which is located 45 miles outside the Gardiner North Yellowstone entrance. Snow covered peaks were a nice backdrop to our current front yard. Yellowstone River this time of year is no joke… High water and a current that discouraged any thought of floating activities.
No easy way to share the splendor of Yellowstone. This was the second time we have been here. Last year we came through the south entrance from the Tetons National Park via John D. Rockefeller Jr. Memorial Parkway for a day trip. This year we purposefully entered from the North to see another perspective of the park. We were not disappointed one bit.
With the Jeep full of puppies, camera gear and picnic goodies, we set off for our days adventure. We followed the Yellowstone river on HWY 89 to Gardiner and made a few stops along the way, one to observe the raging river in the narrows and another to let the dogs stretch their legs at Yankee Jim Picnic area. Upon entering the park, we enjoyed following the Gardner River up through the canyon until we got to the Albright Visitor Center & Museum area. As expected, this place was a congested zoo full of monkeys, we bypassed this to get started on the Grand Loop Road.
The Yellowstone Google Map (with a link) details the adventure with highlighted stops along the way.
The diverse landscape; High plains, canyons, waterfalls, mountain peaks, shear rock walls and raging streams, were matched with the ever-changing weather patterns we had throughout the day; sunny blue skies, snow, sleet, thunder & lightening made for some moody photo opportunities.
Wildlife was abundant! We saw several elk herds, Buffalo in small groups and plenty of deer throughout the day.
The day quickly went by, we were definitely in “sensory overload” from all the beauty and majesty that we experienced at this place . We both agreed that the North entrance was much more dynamic and spectacular than the visit we did last year from the South. There is so much to see….. so much to enjoy and appreciate. For those planning to visit, our advice would be to give yourself ample to enjoy the many splendors it has to offer. The park is over 3400 square miles and annually has over 4 million visitors, choose wisely! Like many other National Parks, it is NOT pet friendly! We visited the parts of the park that allowed us some flexibility with the dogs. Picnic areas are always a safe haven! We will be back, way too many stones left uncovered.
One of our goals besides a visit to the National Park was an opportunity to go fly fishing in the Yellowstone area. We stopped in to visit the Sweetwater fly shop to inquire about a license and where to go “wet-a-line”. After talking to the guides in the shop, they said not to waste our time buying a license as all the small streams feeding the Yellowstone were much higher than normal. Their recommendation was to drive 40-50 miles to another valley which was not feasible given our timeline and travel constraints.
This was perfect storm for Deb to find an off-road adventure! Lol!! She did NOT disappoint! We ventured off in an effort to discover Fairy Lake. On the map it looked very manageable and accessible with the Jeep. After leaving Livingston, MT. we stayed on HWY 89 to Clyde Park, then followed Brackett Creek road. Unexpected beautiful scenery along this county road, passing farms, pastures and frequently spotting deer in the meadows.
We continued our adventure on Bridger Canyon Road seeing the snow covered Sacagawea Peak and then found Deb’s treachery….. Fairy Creek road! Not the smoothest of roads but we have been on worse, weavey winding our way, we crept along for almost five miles before our hopes of getting to Fairy Lake came to a screeching halt.. A locked Gate! The nerve….. since there was still snow in many of the mountain peak shadows, this seasonal road had not yet been opened. We contemplated a short hike to get to the lake, but even that was short lived… the lake was at 7500 feet, it was well over a mile and still all up hill to get there… Adventure derailed! We then went down to Bozeman for a late lunch and headed back to Paradise Valley.
Our last day was spent wandering about the town of Livingston. Vintage signage in the historic district was VERY “Route 66”. We found the local high school athletic complex adjacent to the Yellowstone river which was a perfect place to take the canine “3 Amigos” for a nice walk. Passing clouds enhanced our morning photo Op, we always enjoy visiting downtown Americana.
The Yellowstone chapter of the Endless Summer adventure has come to an end. Deb and I are anxious to see what’s next at Glacier NP.