On Sunday, I got back from a twelve-day, eleven-night driving, hiking, and backpacking trek through Glacier, Yellowstone, and Grand Teton in Montana. We drove about 2,000 miles throughout the trip, backpacked 55 miles, spent ten straight nights in tents, and took maybe four showers. We ate enough granola bars and peanut butter to choke a grizzly bear. In our trek, we suffered a sprained ankle, a blister, sore shoulders, bruises, and the occasional bout of near-hypothermia. Well, at least it felt that way; we’re not in our twenties anymore right?
A bit of an intro
On previous trips, I’ve blogged and documented almost every single day. Still, given the vagaries of connections in the Montana wilderness, not to mention the difficulties of carrying a laptop into the backcountry, that wasn’t possible on this trip. So now I lie on my couch in the aftermath of endless fascinating stories that don’t really connect unless I want to write something novel-length. Several hundred pictures, a few amusing and/or weird videos that do not really belong on Earth.
Heck, I’ll start with one of those…
Yellowstone National Park
When people think of Yellowstone, they think of bears, crowds, Old Faithful, or a volcano that will kill us all one day. But when you’re standing near the caldera, in one of the countless geyser basins, the utter strangeness of the landscape makes it difficult to remember you’re still standing on our own planet. The stark muddy landscape, with orange and brown bacteria mats spreading as far as the eye can see and bubbling hot springs that throw up a field of steam so dense it’s like you’re walking through sulphurous London fog… well, it’s not planet Earth. It’s the sort of place you’d expect to find Captain Kirk fighting a guy in a lizard suit, is all I’m saying.
While we were at Yellowstone, we walked around Shoshone Lake, which is believed to be the largest in the lower 48 states, not accessible by road. Only hand-powered watercraft (canoes and kayaks) are allowed on it. When you reach the top of a hill on the lake’s edge, you can essentially look out and see miles and miles of scenery– water, forests, and marshland– that seems no different than it would have to a fur trader in area three hundred years ago.
On the southwest corner of Shoshone Lake is the Shoshone Geyser Basin, a prime example of one of those alien landscapes I mentioned. It has eighty geysers in a 1600×800 foot area, and, well, you’d best watch your step if you’re walking through it. It’s a landscape that smacks you in the head and says, “Why, yes, you ARE standing inside a 45-mile-wide volcano. Have a nice, non-terrifying day! Muahahaha.”
Both Yellowstone and Glacier National Park are also famous for their wildlife. So before either park lets you camp in the backcountry, they subject you to a fifteen-minute video detailing how to avoid bears and what to do in the event of a bear encounter (answer: not be an idiot). In fact, a large swath of Yellowstone was closed to hikers thanks to a recent bear attack that resulted in a fatality. So we followed the advice in the video, but despite that (or perhaps because of it), we didn’t even see any bears at all. Darn it!
We did see plenty of bison, chipmunks, and one eighteen-inch long critter that looked sort of like a red fox, except that red foxes don’t climb trees. There was plenty of elk, too, including a few lounging right in the middle of Mammoth Hot Springs Historic District, aka the biggest town in Yellowstone.
Yellowstone was pretty awesome. Glacier National Park was pretty awesome, too. Yellowstone wins as far as weird scenery and wildlife, but Glacier wins when it comes to sheer, raw nature. (Until the day Yellowstone erupts and kills us all, that is.)
As for Grand Teton National Park, we only got to spend one night there, unfortunately, and didn’t get to hike in the mountains at all. But they were still darn impressive. Hopefully, I’ll be able to spend more time there in the future. They’re only… fifteen hours away… through some of the most monotonous scenery this side of Texas. Montana and eastern Washington are fabulous, but the driving does get old after a while.