The time has come to relinquish ourselves to the open road. I have made lists and created piles of stuff in several corners of the house in preparation for this adventure to Yellowstone. At some point one must stop planning and start doing. The doing portion begins with packing the car.
I have a Subaru Outback, which I’m a big fan of and I’ve packed it full of stuff countless times. The difference with a road trip is how you pack. It’s similar to going backpacking if you’ve ever done that. Choosing the things you are bringing is based on their necessity and versatility. Where you pack these items is of equal importance. When I backpack or road trip I choose a place for an item and that is where it returns every-single-time. I want to have the ability to reach into a backpack or the back of the car in the darkness and still be able to find what I’m looking for. The clutter of a road trip car can turn to chaos quickly if you let it.
I loaded the car, then unloaded, and reloaded it until I was able to reach the most needed items easily while burying the less necessary ones out of reach. The car was full. I stood back observing the fullness and thought, “We are only two people!” But alas, traveling with a baby ups the level of necessary items to an astonishing degree; acceptance is half the battle.
After the car was loaded with stuff the last step was to load it with people. We hopped into the car and said Adios to Buffalo Creek for a short while.
On the Road:
We took the windy road up from Buffalo Creek to Highway 285 which is yet another windy (and congested) road in order to make our way toward Denver and then north. The sheer amount of people in Colorado probably raises the amount of car accidents and I’d guess that windy mountain highways and riding on peoples’ bumpers doesn’t help either. Even still it’s pretty astonishing how regularly I see car accidents here. I drive past a wreck nearly everyday so driving in Colorado helps me to channel my inner Nascar driver in order to stay “off the wall”, if you know what I mean.
Our first stop was Ft.Collins, which is a busy college town whether or not school is in session. As with most all college towns there are plenty of good restaurants, coffee shops and open spaces to check out. I knew of a splash pad that sits in a plaza right next to a coffee shop so we were able to get a little two-for-one action before jumping back in the car. Getting some energy out of that little munchkin body before getting her back into the car seat is imperative for a calm demeanor on the road.
Once we crossed over into Wyoming the traffic decreased significantly and the speed limit increased what a deal! I knew that we wouldn’t make it to Yellowstone in the first day of driving and that we’d need to overnight someplace. The trouble with that stretch of Wyoming is that there really isn’t much of anything. It’s open plains for as far as the eye can see; hot, windy, and desolate. Any camping in that area would be an RV park, which I was not interested in tent camping at. I was hopeful that we’d make better time than I’d anticipated and get far enough north that we’d be in the trees and mountains where the quality camping resides, no luck.
We made it as far as Rock Springs before it became obvious we weren’t making it to the trees and our options were limited. Luckily in times like these there are KOA campgrounds to fall back on. They usually tend to be in or on the outskirts of towns.
This KOA was located directly behind what appeared to be an oil refinery so it was a pretty superb spot. Essentially the campground was a big flat gravel parking lot. However, the tent sites were surprisingly nice. They were fenced on all sides due to the excessive wind that constantly blows through Rock Springs so each tent site was private. It came complete with a little patch of grass to pitch our tent and a picnic table too.
Upon arrival I was playing a game of beat the clock. When traveling with a munchkin everything seems to take longer than anticipated. I was trying to set up camp, get us both to the bathroom, (before I pee’d my pants or she pooped in her britches) and make dinner before it got dark. We had a quick and simple meal of tomato soup and grilled cheese sandwiches before I abruptly focused my energy on clean up and getting Ani ready for bed.
Ani went to bed later than normal but she was sleeping soundly until she wasn’t. Once the wind began to pick-up I think the rattling of the tent and the howling sound left her in a whiny half-asleep, not fully awake state of consciousness. She whined every 3-5 minutes until about 2am. I was exhausted and frustrated because I was trying to keep her quiet for our camping neighbors and also, I was getting no sleep.
Ani finally made it to a sound sleep state and then around 4am the RV jack-assery began. From what I could tell at least half of the RV’s were pulling-out around that time. I could hear cars being loaded onto tow trailers, backup beeping, and the sound of heavy vehicles driving over gravel rocks. My day was long before it even started.
On the road again:
We had a later start than I was hoping due to the long night but we weren’t that far behind what I initially hoped to be our departure time. I managed to feed Ani, get us both dressed, pack-up, break down the tent, and get us out of the campsite within 45 minutes. In times like these having a fire background is helpful. A quick wake-up and go is standard operating procedure.
One thing that could not be bypassed to save time was a coffee stop. As I drove toward the Starbucks via Yelp App I began to notice how familiar things were looking. It turns out I had been in this part of Rock Springs with the hotshot crew years earlier for a lunch stop while en route to a fire. Funny how many random places like these firefighting brings you to.
We pushed onward after grabbing the coffee and I thought we were making good progress. The drive was pretty lackluster until we reached the Pinedale area. Even the landscape around Pinedale left you looking out into the distance to view anything of significance.
We made our lunch stop in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. I hadn’t been to Jackson since my road trip in 2006. I breezed through town in the beginning of November and there were approximately 7 people in the entire town. My experience this time was exactly the opposite. It was almost as if people were crawling over the top of each other it was so congested. Jackson isn’t that big of a town and it seemed to be busting at the seams.
We somehow managed to find a perfect parking spot right in the main square of town. I rolled out the yoga mat in the grass at the park for Ani and I to have ourselves a picnic complete with endless people watching entertainment. We had an expedient lunch and jumped back in the car for our final push north. This is where making good-time driving came to die.
Traveling through the National Parks of Teton and Yellowstone took a painstakingly long time. Although the route was much more scenic than to go around the parks one pays the price with forest traffic jams. It occurred to me while in the midst of the congested NP traffic that this is what the entire Western half Colorado is like; a congested National Park everywhere you go.
The Tetons were strikingly beautiful and I would like to go back and spend some quality time experiencing that area.
Yellowstone was just as I remembered it, which is relatively unremarkable. I realize that sounds ridiculous but I think I must’ve missed the best parts of Yellowstone both times I’ve gone. After forging through the swarms of people and a quick stop near Old Faithful (mostly because my bladder was going to explode) we made it to West Yellowstone where we would be meeting friends that were staying at the KOA.
Landing in West Yellowstone:
Our friends and especially their kids were excitedly awaiting our arrival. It felt rather over-stimulating to get out of the car and be peppered with questions and stories one after the next by the two girls after so much quiet drive time. They were more than happy to take Ani into their kid gang and she seemed happy to join.
Having wee ones changes well, everything. But one of the many things it changes is the type of adventure you have.
For example: Before having a kiddo the adventure would have been squeezing in the most arduous hike possible in the short window of time while at Yellowstone. After a kiddo the adventure is the fact that I even ventured to Yellowstone from afar in the first place. I didn’t care what hikes we did or didn’t do, I was just glad for the company and the location was an added bonus.
The first night was frigid but Ani and I stayed nice and toasty in our tent. She has some super warm Patagonia fleece pajamas and wool lined slipper/moccasins (Padrage Cottage) that I’m completely jealous of on both counts. One of her Grandma’s was nice enough to alter an old adult sleeping bag of ours into a munchkin size so she was set up pretty well for the cold weather across the board. However, I did win the bad parent award for not noticing that her hands were out of the sleeping bag. When I peeked over at her in the morning I touched her hands and they felt like ice cubes. What a jerk I am! Then I figured it must not be that bad since she was sleeping soundly and even after she woke up she didn’t want me to warm them up. Regardless, I took her to the bathroom to run them under warm water and she enjoyed that morning activity quite a bit.
After all the clothes changing, breakfast making, reorganizing and packing we were ready to head into the park for the day. Our little gaggle had no real plan beyond trying to find a short hiking trail and maybe for an added bonus we’d find some water to jump into. We managed to find a trail that was 1.5 miles round trip. It was a perfect distance for little legs to accomplish and it led to a lake, what a deal! I can’t say I remember the name of the lake but it certainly wasn’t a swimming lake. I’d say around 70% of it was blanketed with lily pads, which was nice to look at but not to jump into.
We plopped ourselves down on a log and all had a snack before making the treacherous .75 mile hike back to the trailhead. On the hike back I was pointing out some things in the landscape and vegetation that influence fire activity since my friends were asking me fire related questions the night before. I imagine that how a firefighter looks at the forest is drastically different than someone outside of that profession. The girls were interested in some of the information too so it became an educational hike.
We found a spot to have a picnic lunch went to check out a waterfall afterward. Over lunch Ani decided to really become one with nature and she doused herself in dirt. Her face looked a bit like a tribal warrior and I just left her that way because, why not?
That evening we went into the big town of West Yellowstone to find ourselves some tasty homemade ice cream. Beyond that we sat on the porch of our friends little KOA cabin chatting under a clear night’s sky full of stars, not a bad way to end a good day.
That was that! The next morning our friends were departing to head for Missoula and we set off to brave the traffic jams of the forest once again. This time we stopped for lunch along a beautiful lake in the Teton National Park that reminded me quite a bit of landscape you’d find in New Zealand.
Our other stop was in Jackson Hole once again so that I could find a late afternoon coffee. By way of Yelp (what would I do without Yelp?) I found a bakery named Persephone’s that sounded worth the stop and Holy Smokes! Was it ever. I had one of the most fantastic pastries that have ever existed on this planet alongside an excellent cappuccino. I wanted to live out my days in this café taking in all the intricate décor while slowly eating one pastry at a time until they were all gone but alas, I had to move onward.
I was heading for Fremont Lake to camp near the Wind River Range. I missed an unmarked turn on the way into the campground and ended up at a beautiful overlook before realizing where I was. All in all it didn’t feel like the worst thing to take in that view of the Wind River Range before heading back down to make camp. If anything it felt like a scouting mission because now I feel determined to hike the backcountry there.
The campground itself is thus far a hidden gem. It’s a relatively new campground so the vault toilets are all spiffy and fresh, the tent sites are spacious and spread a good distance apart, and the sites run alongside a nice lake. Not a bad deal I’d say.
I had been feeling hyper-vigilant about this night of camping in a less populated site for 2 reasons.
- Potential visits by bears in the night.
- A potential visit by a creepy person.
In times like these bear spray can give a wonderful sense of security on both counts. I threw it in the tent and we both drifted off to sleep hoping for the best.
I’m happy to report we had no incidents in the night beyond a bit of rain that lasted into morning. I managed to prop up an umbrella to keep us dry while I made our breakfast and after that I quickly broke down camp during a brief break in the rain.
I promptly altered my road trip plans when I got word from Ian that he would actually be getting his days-off so our new next stop would be Fort Collins. We decided to live it up and stay in a hotel in a populated area since we had been living in solitary confinement down in Buffalo Creek.
Our only stop of significance en route to Fort Collins was near a historical marker off the Continental Divide Road exit in nowheres-ville, Wyoming. We had lunch along an eerie, desolate dirt road and stretched our legs a bit before jumping back into the car and leaving Wyoming behind.
I was quite happy to arrive at the hotel, happy to stop driving, and happy to have help with Ani again. We spent two days being amongst people before making our way back down into the hole again.
It was time to unpack, rest, recuperate and get ready for road trip #2.