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.

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

It's Moving Day

I moved today, but it was a short trip, just 30 miles towards West Yellowstone to the Yellowstone Holiday RV CampgroundAfter two weeks of staying in state parks it will be nice to have full hook-ups for a few days.

On the way over I pulled into a laundry / RV park along the highway when I saw there was more than enough room for my trailer in the parking lot. The place was busy and had some of the most antique looking dryers I have ever seen, but I was able to do a load of laundry while I made lunch in the camper and walked the dogs.

The new park seems to be very clean and modern. My site is level and has lots of grassy yard around it for the dogs. We have a huge fire pit, a picnic table, and a view of Hebgen Lake out the back window - not quite the unobstructed view I just had at Henry's Lake, but still pretty good.

Site #E14 at Yellowstone Holiday RV

The campground has a cute little marina attached that rents boats and kayaks to take out on Hebgen Lake In the evening there were lots of fish jumping all around the marina and it looked like the fishing on the lake would be fairly good for trout.

Saturday, August 17, 2019

Want to see Yellowstone in the Summer? Wake Up Early!

Midway Geyser Basin - 6:45am
I've been feeling bad about spending all this time right outside the entrance to Yellowstone without going in to visit.  The problem of course is the people - so many people!  We're smack dab in the middle of summer season for the National Parks and everything in and around them is an absolute zoo.

I came up with a theory a few days ago that maybe if I could get in early, say before sunrise, I might just get a few hours on my own to enjoy the park.  I set my alarm for 5:30 am this morning and set out to test the theory.

I pulled into the parking lot at Midway Geyser Basin and Grand Prismatic Spring at 6:45 am and my heart gave a little leap - hooray!  Only two other cars in the lot.  The place was virtually empty.

Grand Prismatic Spring
There were quite a few interesting geothermal features along this walk but it was kind of difficult to see Grand Prismatic through all the steam rising so early in the morning.  I decided to drive up the road a bit to Fairy Falls where there is an overlook to the springs and possibly a better view.

Fairy Falls Hike - Lots of Steam Rising in the Midway Geyser Basin

Grand Prismatic from the Overlook Trail

The next stop on my little Yellowstone tour was Biscuit Basin.  I arrived there just before 8:00 am and again found the parking lot nearly empty.

I really enjoyed the colorful array of thermal pools located in and around Biscuit Basin.  It was by far my favorite stop of the four I was able to make today.  
From Biscuit Basin it is only a couple more miles to get to Old Faithful.  I mostly wanted to go there to get some coffee and check out the Old Faithful Inn.  Again I had no trouble finding parking at this time of the morning.  

I walked around the historic Old Faithful Inn and drank my coffee while taking in the awe-inspiring lobby and the massive stone fireplace with its hand-crafted clock made of copper and iron.

I finished my coffee and stepped outside just in time to catch the 9:15 am eruption of Old Faithful Geyser.

All-in-all, I would say my theory about visiting Yellowstone early in the morning to avoid summer crowds was a success.  My goal was to be out of the park by 10:00 am and I just about made it out by then.  I never once hit traffic, had to wait for parking, or stood in any lines.  To add emphasis to the benefits of visiting early, here is a photo of the line of cars I encountered while leaving from the west entrance.