Continuing on our westerly heading through the Black Hills towards Wyoming, our first stop was Devil’s Tower NM, not far over the state line and only a minor detour from I-90. We weren’t planning on visiting National Monuments on this trip, but this one was so close it was hard to skip. Our plan was to be in Bighorn National Forest for the night so back on I-90 to Gillette and Sheridan.
Deciding to skip a couple of campsites located in the small towns prior to the National Forest we had no choice but to try and either hope for open accommodation somewhere in the middle of nowhere or that a gas station materialized in the back of beyond. We were committed, and with below fifty miles of fuel remaining we both had our fingers crossed! Early June may as well be winter in the north of the US, especially around Wyoming and Montana, and the first few lodging options were either closed until the snow had further receded, or were hosting religious groups. What, you can’t spare a couple of worried nomads a cabin for the night? Turns out we came across Bear Lodge, and with heavily discounted early season rates we couldn’t refuse, or was it the fact that our dire gas problem forced us to stay! Anyway, pizza and beer later and we spent our first night tucked away in a hotel bed.
It would have been great to spend time exploring this huge place but an early departure beckoned to find a good enough 3G signal for Andrea to get to work – we know this is going to get harder and harder the farther we head north, and with the timezone difference already being two hours earlier than Eastern it gives us a 5.30am start to the day. Pacific and Alaska timezones are going to be torture! Fortunately our gas problem was solved early on as the first town we arrived at within thirty something miles was open and bought us luck – still too close for comfort, and we’ll now make sure we fill up on half a tank.
Devils Tower National Monument
The closer we got the more impressive this huge standalone rock tower in the Black Hills became. Rising 5.114 feet above sea level and 1.267 feet taller than everything else around it, it made for a great panoramic vista. With our late arrival we only had time for the easy walk around the bottom of the monolith, which actually is all that’s really necessary when visiting, unless you make up the 1% of the people who chose to climb it. The highlight of the walk was hearing the yells of a rock climber as he lost his footing and was left dangling upside down from the rope, luckily for him still attached to the rock face!
Yellowstone National Park
The home of fabled Yogi bear and Old Faithful, this huge park, primarily in Wyoming but seeping over into Idaho and Montana, was spectacular. We ended up spending eight days in the park as there was so much to see and do in such a vast area, including hiking, biking and wildlife spotting. Six nights of our stay were at the Canyon campground, which opened the day after we arrived in the park, and provided us with hot showers, laundry facilities, and a mini village a mere two minute drive away. This was far better than our first night at the Bridge Bay campground located close to the Lake Village.
I think overall in the park we probably drove almost three hundred miles, and covered pretty much all the main highways and got to see all the must-see places, From turquoise pools of boiling water to numerous geyser eruptions to bears, bison and coyotes walking down the road, we feel very fortunate to have experienced one of the most amazing places in the United States.
Our arrival at the end of May was timed to perfection as the weather was kind to us for the most part, and the hordes of tourists had not yet arrived – this meant that on occasion we were the first, and sometimes the only people to spot some of the parks biggest predators. On one occasion we were heading out by bikes and fifty yards away in our campsite was a female black bear with two cubs, and another time I was out riding alone and not much more than fifty yards away were three Grizzly bears. We would often be held up in the road by bison that acted like the road was theirs, but even this early in the season there were still some pretty crazy wildlife moments when the masses would converge upon elk, bears, and distant wolves. We both agreed that to be here in July and August would be a nightmare with the sheer volume of traffic and packed campsites, although I can’t wait to return in the winter.
Grand Teton National Park
Although I’d heard of the Tetons it wasn’t particularly on our radar as a place to see, that is until I decided we should pay a visit to Jackson Hole – maybe somewhere we could move to after we finish travelling. It wasn’t far south of Yellowstone either, especially exiting through the south gate, in fact you cannot avoid driving into the park. We had no choice but to stay at the Colter campground for a single night due to the free WiFi located in the 24 hour laundry building – this was also the only campground in the park that offered showers! This bought us to Friday where Andrea finishes work at 10am, giving us plenty of time to explore the park over the weekend and no dependency on Internet. Won’t be long before her Friday hours are 4-8am!!
I had headed out early to ride the eighteen miles to Jenny Lake so we didn’t miss out on their first-come first-served reservation policy. The campground was supposedly the most popular campground, set right on the shores of the lake by the same name. With two nights reserved we were good to explore.
Jenny Lake was perfectly placed for a hike up to Hidden Falls, Inspiration Point and on into the Cascade Canyon, and made a great starting point for a cycle ride into Jackson Hole. It also had perfect access for climbs up into the Tetons – next time.
As it happened we both thought Jackson was a great town, although it has a major tourist problem this time of year! I’m sure it’s similar during the winter, but with great bars, restaurants, and an excellent bike shop specializing in fat-bikes I think I could get used to the place. With its close proximity to Yellowstone, Grand Teton, and loads of national forest I could photograph and ride my heart away. Do I really have to work again?
May 28th – June 9th 2014