Friday, September 6, 2019

The Madison River - One for the Fly Fishing Bucket List

Ennis, Montana:  Fly fishing the Madison River is one of those bucket list items Jason and I have been talking about from the beginning of our RV life daydreaming.  It is also the main reason we put Montana on our must-do destination list in this first year on the road.

This week we came to the town of Ennis, Montana - "the heart of the world's best fly fishing" to finally see the famous Madison River for ourselves and to hopefully catch a few trout.

We have been staying at Ennis RV Village which sits along Hwy 287 just a mile north of town.  From here we have easy access to a variety of fishing locations along the Madison with just a few miles of driving.

On August 29th we drove 10 miles south into Bear Trap Canyon to try some wade fishing below the Madison Dam.
Lunch break in Bear Trap Canyon

Fighting a Brown

A Canyon Brown

Great Blue Heron was out fishing today too
Pretty Rainbow

On August 30th we tried fishing in the evening about 10 miles north of Ennis at the Varney Bridge access.  We waded downstream about a half mile into some braids but Jason only landed a couple of small trout.  While walking back up river we ran into a porcupine along the trail.  He was small and in no big hurry to move along so we could pass by him, so we waited patently and took a few pictures as he slowly climbed into some trees next to the path.

Casting below Varney Bridge

Little Rainbow

Pokey Porcupine

Sunset along the river with Madison Range in the distance

Tuesday, September 3, 2019

Coffin Lakes Trail

Today we set out on a day hiking adventure with the dogs.  Coffin Lakes Trail is a 12 mile out and back trail located near Henry's Lake State Park, ID.  To get to the trailhead we drove east on US-20 about 7 miles then turned onto Denny Creek Road which eventually turned to forest service gravel road for the last 10 miles.

The trail begins in a fairly open meadow near Hebgen Lake.  When we arrived there were quite a few open range cattle hanging around the trailhead parking area.  They seemed pretty interested in watching us pack up our gear for the hike. 
Curious cattle

Frankie keeping the cows at bay

The beginning of the hike is a gentle upward climb on easy to follow path through sagebrush meadows and fir and pine forest.  

A few miles in the trail climbs further into the mountains becoming thick forest and a calf-burning elevation gain of 1900 ft. begins.  We crossed several tiny streams and at one point the trees parted to reveal an impressive cliff ridge line.

The hike ends at 6 miles by popping out of the trees at a beautiful clear mountain lake set against the backdrop of high mountain cliff ridges.  Right away we spotted several cutthroat trout milling around in the cold clear water.  A good sign!

We hiked up a steep little incline to get a better view and sat to enjoyed our lunch on a large rock overlooking Lower Coffin Lake.

A perfect spot for lunch

Lilly was slightly disappointed by my snack choice of wasabi almonds
After lunch it was time for both dogs to do a little swimming and for Jason to try and catch one of those pretty trout we could see swimming around in the lake.

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

Bozeman Hot Springs and Campground

My friend and I were planning a meet-up with our campers this week and we decided to start at Bozeman Hot Springs for the first couple of days.  We stayed at the attached campground next door which included entry into the hot springs for two people during our stay.

I've been to a few different hot springs before but this one was quite different than my previous experiences.  Instead of natural springs with sand or rock bottom this was more like a public pool or bath house.  There are both indoor and outdoor pools available.  Our first visit was in the evening and the place was jam-packed with lots of kids running around like they were at the hotel pool during summer vacation.  The indoor pool was the worst with sounds of squealing kids echoing and bouncing off the walls.  Not relaxing at all! 

Luckily my friend and I decided to give the pools a second chance and we returned in the early morning to find an entirely different scene.  At 8:00 am there were only about a dozen people lazing around it the hot water pools and no kids whatsoever.  The pools open at 6:00 am and I think morning visits are probably best if you're looking for a quiet relaxing soak.

The Bozeman Hot Springs Campground is just next to and behind the hot springs and attached by a gravel pathway.  The campground turned out to be a pleasant surprise with very friendly staff, clean facilities, and plenty of shade.  The campground used to be a KOA, but it appears to have been taken over by new management and in the process of being upgraded with some new buildings and landscaping.  There are a variety of site types available and some of them did look fairly tight and close to neighbors.  There were also a few tight turns in the park and I did see one camper get caught up on the landscaping rocks while attempting to make an overly sharp turn.  

I had a pull-through site on the J row and thought it was just fine with a small grassy area and hedges on both sides to give a little privacy from the neighbors.  The cost per night is high at $78 but they did have a Good Sam discount that brought the rate down to $67.  That rate included passes to the hot springs and breakfast each morning.

My site J2

Sunday, August 25, 2019

Yellowstone Day 3: Gardiner and the Lamar Valley

As much as I was hoping to spot some bears in the park today, it turns out that this would be a good day for seeing elk - lots of elk sightings throughout the park.

I started the morning with a trip into the town of Gardiner to look for some decent WiFi to send e-mails.  The AT&T and Verizon signal at Mammoth campground can be spotty to nonexistent during peak hours of the day.  Along with good coffee, I found great free WiFi and a comfortable place to sit and work at Wonderland Cafe & Lodge

The little town of Gardiner sits right outside of the north entrance to Yellowstone and along with enough Yellowstone gift and trinket shops to entertain the most heavily laden tourist bus, there is also a good variety of lodging and dining options.   

After a little exploring around town I stopped by Yellowstone Pizza Company for lunch and ordered pizza which was okay and a huckleberry cream ale from Laughing Dog Brewing (Idaho) that was very good.

Before heading back to Mammoth campground for the afternoon I stopped to take a look at the historic Roosevelt Arch which was dedicated in 1903 and stands at the original entrance to Yellowstone National Park.

In the evening I decided to load the dogs up in the truck and take a drive towards the Lamar Valley to see if we could spot some wildlife.  

Frankie is all about the wildlife viewing after our last slow drive in the National Bison Range.

It wasn't long into our Lamar Valley evening drive before we hit our first official "bison-jam".  A huge herd of bison were lumbering along on both sides of the road, as well as crossing and walking right down the middle.  It was funny to watch how they would stand right in the middle of the road blocking traffic while looking completely unperturbed and in no hurry to move.

Pronghorn Antelope

The baby bison are adorable.

Saturday, August 24, 2019

Yellowstone Day 2: The Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone and Norris Geyser Basin

This morning I set out early towards the Canyon area by driving east towards Tower Junction and up over Dunraven Pass.  My goal was to reach Artist Point by 7:00 am.

Artist Point is a viewpoint along the southern rim of the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone.  From here you have a spectacular view of the colorful canyon and Lower Yellowstone Falls. 

I wanted to arrive early in the morning so I would have a good chance of seeing the falls without having to deal with summer crowds and sure enough at 7:00 am there were very few other people around. 

From Canyon Village I drove west across the park to the Norris Geyser Basin.  According to my park guide Norris is the hottest and most volatile area inside Yellowstone and I definitely got a feeling of otherworldly-ness here after arriving at the first overlook to view out over the steaming basin from above. 

There is a constant sound of gurgling, bubbling, and hissing going on in Norris and the pungent sulfur smell seems much stronger than it does in other areas of the park.

The lime-green colored streams that flow around Norris basin are caused by a type of algae that thrives in hot acidic waters.

I completed my early morning loop drive and arrived back at the campground by 10:30 am.  On the way I passed through the Mammoth Visitors Center area where there was a family of elk grazing and laying around in the grass.

Friday, August 23, 2019

Venturing Into Yellowstone Without Reservations

One thing I'm quickly learning during this first year on the road is how ridiculously busy our national parks have become.  Right now I'm in Yellowstone National Park in August and it's just astounding how many people are entering the park each day.   

Yellowstone campground reservations can fill up more than 6 months in advance, so a last minute visit can feel kind of intimidating.  On the plus side, there are seven first-come, first-serve campgrounds available in the park and open sites are given away each morning starting with the first person in line.  The catch - you have to show up really early to snag a spot!

My morning started here - 6:30 am, first in line at the Mammoth Campground registration office near the north entrance of Yellowstone National Park. 

At 7:00 am two rangers showed up to start checking in new campers.  I got the first site available and was parked and set up before 8:00 am.  By 9:45 am the campground office was closed again and marked full for the day.  There is a handy page from the Yellowstone National Park website that shows the campground fill times for the current and previous day.  I kept an eye on this page for a few days before driving into the park to get an idea of how early I should arrive to get a spot.

Almost all of the sites at Mammoth are large pull-through sites with more than enough space for any size rig.  This is my site, #26 on the outside of the lower loop.  I paid $20 per night for four nights of dry camping.

I have a really nice view looking down and across the valley from the front of my site.

In the afternoon I took a walk across the road and up one of the hills next to the campground.  There was a really nice view from up there looking down the valley towards the north entrance and to the left over Mammoth campground and Mammoth Hot Springs above the campground in the distance.

From here you can easily see the layout of the campground.  It's one big u-shaped loop with pull-through sites on the inside and outside of the loop.  The big negative of Mammoth is that it sits inside a huge bend in the main park road.  There is a lot of road noise because of this especially during busy times of day.  If given a choice I would ask for one of the upper sites near the back of the loop like 50-53 just to give yourself more space between you and the main road and cut down some of the noise.