Ultimate Road Trip

Aren’t bison herd animals?

On Friday, we awoke at 4 a.m. in the hope of seeing wolves. Ryan whipped up some coffee and drove us to Slough Creek in Lamar Valley, a supposed wolf destination.

We got there around 5:30 and weren’t seeing much. It was quite calm and serene, watching the sun slowly rise over the valley. Just when we thought we were out of luck, we spotted a bison wandering along the ridge. “Aren’t bison herd animals?” Ryan asked. I wasn’t sure. I was just happy that we hadn’t gotten up so early for nothing.

We started driving back the way we came and saw cars stopped ahead — a clear sign of wildlife. But it wasn’t just a single creature. It was a hoard of bison. There were bison within feet of the car! Bison babies, following their moms. Bison teenagers, nuzzling and head butting each other. I have never witnessed anything like it. We sat in bison traffic for a solid 20 minutes, laughing and taking photos and videos. What an epic start to the day!

Out the car window!

It was only 7:15 now and we were hoping to get a backcountry permit for the following night (there are always some sites available for walk-ins, but you need to reserve them early in the day). I fell asleep in the car outside the ranger station, until 8 a.m. when it opened up. Ryan had already begun chatting with Fred, a kind old ranger who helped us out.

Fred brought out several maps and helped us identify sites that were open. I had a few places that Evyn recommended, but ultimately, we settled on Blacktail Deer Creek, where we could hike 4.5 miles to Crevice Lake and camp along the Yellowstone River. Fred got us all squared away with the paperwork, then directed us to the obligatory backcountry guidelines video. As all these instructional videos tend to be, it was cheesy, long, dated, but practicable. I actually learned a thing or two.

We thanked Fred then headed on to hike, first stopping at Tower Falls to reset a bit (I don’t do well without food in the morning). Then onto our trailhead, Wapiti Falls. Ryan elected to take his catnap then, while I spent time writing for you lovely readers.

Bottom of Tower Falls hike
Catching up on sleep

The trail we did combined several viewpoints: Upper Yellowstone Falls, Lower Yellowstone Falls, Artist’s Point, and Point Sublime. All of these spots were positively picturesque, and the trail had a good roll to it. There’s a reason this area is called “The Grand Canyon of Yellowstone.” We then took a couple different trails back, through geysers and meadows. It was a fantastic hike, since it gave you a little of everything in 6.5 miles.

Artist’s Point

Back at the trailhead, we had our picnic lunch, digested, then prepped for our next stop. We had found a bouldering area on Mountain Project, not too far from the north entrance of the park.

Typical lunch veggie wrap

“The Hoodoos” area was a massive and impressive boulder field, full of broken trees and debris. It took us a solid 30 minutes just to locate the climbs, but once we did, we were able to put in a solid effort on all of them. I felt irritated by the lack of information on the project, but I shouldn’t be surprised. Climbers are notoriously cheeky that way.

At this point, it was 7 p.m. We made our way back to camp. Ryan turned on Starlink so we could call and text some folks, and I cooked a pasta dish. Once again, we passed out quickly.

On Saturday, we woke up at 4:30, determined to see wolves. I could not for the life of me keep my eyes open. Once we got to the valley, I could pay more attention. There were folks with scopes all around us, and eventually, we found a group led by a wolf expert who had spotted some. The wolves were much smaller than expected through Ryan’s binoculars, but dammit, we saw them. It was definitely a “huzzah!” moment.

I was still exhausted and so was Ryan, so he pulled over and we proceeded to sleep in the car for 2 hours. We woke up at a quarter to 10, disoriented. I proposed we make some coffee then find a hike. Ryan, as always, was down with the plan.

We initially planned on doing a hike by the “petrified tree,” an ancient redwood that was preserved in the park, indicating a much different climate many years ago. Unfortunately the trail had been converted to an out-and-back and had lots of horseback riders on it, so we bailed. We opted for Hellroaring Creek, one of Evyn’s backpacking suggestions. This was a great call. The trail led us to a sick suspension bridge and of course, Ryan soaked his feet in the creek.

Hellroaring View
He loves a foot soak

After our hike, it was time to eat lunch and prep for the next stage: backpacking. We pulled over, finished a bunch of snacks, picked up ice, then hit the trailhead.

I hadn’t backpacked since 2019, so I carefully packed up, making sure I wasn’t missing anything essential — sleeping bag, tent, water purification, etc. We were both jazzed to finally backpack together, and the trail was fantastic. Meandering hills through a valley and into the forest made us feel like Merry and Pippin. There were so many wildflowers, and another suspension bridge to boot! When we made it to Crevice Lake, we got more stoked. Our campsite was right along the river and totally quiet; we even had our own beach. We set up the tent, hung up our food, then went for a short hike up to Knowles Falls, a huge feature on the river. When we returned, we promptly ate food, brushed our teeth, then settled in. Two 4 a.m. starts in a row plus all the activities will do that to you!

Bridge over Yellowstone River
On the way to Knowles Falls

We slept till 8:15, then leisurely packed up our things and made coffee. The hike out was magical, sunlight playing on Crevice Lake and the Yellowstone River. As I walked back across the suspension bridge, I couldn’t help but think, “this really is the life.”

Our personal beach
Back over the bridge

Once we made it back to the car, we quickly unpacked and organized, then hit the road to Bozeman. Ryan called many of his family members from the car (Happy Birthday, Grandma Geri!), which always touches me.

I had reached out to Cassidy, founder of “Girl, Get After It,” a women’s wellness community she formed in Bozeman. A good friend of mine, Kelli, and I lead a Colorado Springs chapter of GGAI. I naturally wanted to reach out to Cass to 1) meet her in person finally, and 2) get her Bozeman recommendations. She had already flooded me with some great tips, so we first stopped at Jam!, a brunch spot she sent. What a great decision. We started with a cinnamon pecan roll as our “appetizer” and devoured some breakfast sandwiches with biscuits. It was so delicious after all the hiking we’d done.

To digest the huge meal, we then bopped around main street, checking out different shops. Eventually we headed to another recommendation from Cass, MAP Brewing. The beers here were truly high quality and the brewery overlooked a local lake. People were swimming and paddle boarding, and we thought, “hey, we could get a lake shower while we’re here.” We looked absolutely ridiculous, jumping into the water, getting out, lathering in Dr. Bronner’s, then jumping in again. But we finally felt clean. 🙂

We headed south out of town to camp, another spot Cass identified, and set up along Hyalite Creek. It was very peaceful, sleeping near the sound of rushing water.

Now to spend the next few days in Bozeman, exploring and eating good food!

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That’s a Bear

August 12, 2023

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