We leave our cabin at 6 a.m. unhappy that we’d had so little time to spend here. It would have been nice to take one of their morning trail rides and take a tour of Buffalo Bill’s historic lodge. We walk over to the lodge and take some photos but there’s no time for anything more. I’m not used to my vacation days being so rushed and I’m annoyed that my planning failed me. I’m not used to things being less than perfect. Note to self: Next time we’re in Yellowstone, plan a stay-at-home day at Pahaska.
We load everything into the car and leave our key inside the cabin since the office is closed and we can’t officially check out. We drive through the park entrance and into Hayden Valley. We have a little time to spare so we make a stop at Mud Volcanos where the Dragon’s Cauldron steams and sputters. This is my favorite thermal area in the park and at this early morning hour we have it all to ourselves. Walking along the boardwalk, Two buffalo grazing on the path prevent us from following the extra loop which circles around the back side of a hill. We remain on the boardwalk near the parking lot, viewing bubbling mud pots and steaming vents.
At Canyon Village we avoid the dreaded cafeteria and have breakfast at the grill next door. This meal is very good. We spend a little time browsing the gift shop but by 9:30 we’re across the street at the gas station where we are to meet the family.
Having checked out of our cabin and campsite, both of our vehicles are fully loaded and Mark is now towing their camper. As we make our way toward the Northeast Entrance/Exit, we stop to visit the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone. With Butters, the dog, on a leash, we walk the entire length of the parking lot before a sign tells us “No Dogs Allowed.” Kameron sits on a stone bench with Butters while the rest of us walk down the paved path to view the falls.
This is one of the most beautiful locations in the park and I always want to visit here. There is a viewpoint across the canyon where I can see people standing at the top of the falls. In all of our trips here, we’ve never visited that spot. Note to self: When we get home, find that trailhead and mark it on the map for our next visit.
Doc and I leave the kids to enjoy the view and we walk back to the entrance to swap places with Kameron so that she can have a look at the canyon. Butters cries the entire time we’re holding his leash. He stares down the path where his family has disappeared. As far as he is concerned, Doc and I are not adequate substitutes. It’s a reminder that animals have the same emotional needs as people.
Our next stop is Tower Falls and nothing here looks familiar to me. I don’t think I’ve ever been to this major site before. If that is the case, it would be odd indeed. We view the falls and then descend down a long dirt trail. We reach a spot where the trail has washed out making it impossible to reach the base of the falls. The remaining trail turns to the right and leads away from the falls but allows access down to the river. We follow it to the end of the trail where the path down to the water is steep and slick. Kameron and I sit at the top and watch the others maneuver down to the water. Doc hesitates, but eventually follows the kids down the hill.
We try to eat lunch at the nearby Roosevelt Lodge but the place is packed even though it is 2 p.m. and well past the lunch hour. John double parks and I hop out of the car and run inside to ask about the wait time. Even if we split up, I’m told, the wait time will be 40 minutes. I take a quick look around while I’m there. The dining room is beautiful. It’s beamed with unsawn logs – entire trees with the bark still attached. Note to self: Add Roosevelt Lodge Dining Room to a future itinerary.
We drive back to the road where Mark has pulled his trailer into a side driveway, avoiding the crowded parking area, and we all get out to discuss what we’re going to do about lunch. Someone suggests moving on and finding a picnic area where we can eat from our food stores.
“Well… there’s a picnic table right there,” granddaughter Savannah says pointing to a beautiful shaded table right beside us. No one else has noticed it.
We unpack our food stashes and have an impromptu picnic next to the parking lot of the Roosevelt Restaurant. The weather is beautiful with sunshine and a soft breeze. A large tree filled with bird-song provides us with shade. It’s way more fun than eating inside and the view is beautiful.
Out through the Northeast entrance of the park, Doc leads our little convoy on the steep drive over the Beartooth Highway. There are no words to describe how spectacular this drive is. We climb ever higher, twisting and turning along the edge of mountainside cliffs, passing through pine forests to alpine fields and finally reaching 10,000 feet where we’re greeted with deep patches of snow and ice covered lakes.
At the summit we stop at a viewpoint where dozens of little chimpunks scurry around our feet begging for food. I don’t see any signs about not feeding the animals so I offer them a few nutritious peanuts. Over the wall, marmots climb among the rocks just below us. Storm clouds are forming in the sky and the wind kicks up. We hurry back to the cars. No one wants to get caught in a rainstorm while descending the steep and winding mountain road. But we manage to get to the bottom and we pull into Red Lodge without seeing a drop of rain.
Red Lodge, Montana is a small but bustling tourist town filled with shops and restaurants. Doc and I check in at the historic Pollard Hotel while the kids get settled in their campground a few miles down the road. We quickly meet back at the campground where the plan is to build a campfire while Doc and Mark play music. Normally, I would be looking forward to an evening like this, but we’ve arrived in town late, and I’m already very tired. It’s getting too late to start cooking a campfire meal and by the time the fire is built and the cooking is done I’m afraid I’ll be asleep in a chair somewhere. But I know how much Doc has been looking forward to playing music so I’m not about to spoil his fun.
But once again, Mother Nature comes through for me. When we arrive at the campground I get the feeling that everyone else is just as tired as I am and would prefer not to cook. The sky is looking darker and threatens rain. A few raindrops spit down on one or two of us. The safe thing to do, we decide, is to eat in town.
The girls mention that they had noticed a pizza shop and I already have the place in mind knowing from my research that it’s one of the top rated and cheapest restaurants in town. Serena drives us back to town where we get inside The Red Lodge Pizza Company before the rain begins. A very personable waiter seats us and leads us through the menu. The kids order a thin crust but Doc wants a Chicago-style deep dish pizza which I agree to share. Doc wants sausage and extra mushrooms but I want pepperoni and tomatoes. The waiter lets us order a half and half and we put extra cheese on the whole thing. The extra cheese is completely unnecessary. Unlike the pizza we get at home, this place gives you a lot of toppings and cheese to begin with. We get our pizza and it is loaded with super-thick mozzerella. It’s wonderful.
“I thought it never rained on your vacation?” Doc teases as the rain pours down on the street outside.
I don’t mention that it’s raining FOR me this time and that I’m thrilled to have our plans spoiled for just this one evening. We have a grand time in the little pizza shop talking and laughing and eating delicious pizza.
Serena drives us through a monsoon back to the campground where Doc and I make a dash to our SUV. Before we get turned around though, a man knocks on Doc’s drivers side window. He asks if we’ll point our headlights at his camping space where he’s trying to back in a huge RV in the dark. He doesn’t seem to have much experience backing up and never manages to get the camper into its slot. He gives up and parks where he is for the night.
We get back to our room at the Pollard where I had reserved one of their historic rooms. If it is a historic room, they have a very poor decorator. There is no indication of historic anything in this room. It’s a fully modern room indistinguishable from a Best Western. At this point though, I don’t really care. All I want to do is sleep. Had I known we wouldn’t be spending any time here, I would have booked a cheaper hotel.