Mormons, Potatoes, and Wildlife (S)

Detour to BFE

As we left Reno headed towards Salt Lake City, Leo checked Atlas Obscura to see if there were any interesting sites along our path. Not convinced that the very active artist town, Jerome, AZ, that we stopped in a few weeks earlier qualified as a ghost town, he was struck by an entry for proclaimed ghost town, Midas, NV. The only establishment left in what was once a 5,000 person town, was a small saloon. We decided to make the 2 hour detour to have lunch there.

We made a quick stop along the way to spell out something with the rocks on the salt plains by the road.

It was a surprisingly easy drive to get there down a gravel road. We later learned that the road was so well maintained because some local gold mines used it. We actually saw tumbleweed on the way. A first for both of us! After about an hour down the gravel road, we approached Midas. We found the saloon and were warmly greeted by a cute pup outside and then by the owner, Page. He invited to come in and grab a drink. Unfortunately, the kitchen was closed. He was fixing it up after the previous owner had let it fall into some disrepair. We stayed for a drink and chatted with the locals who had made a serious off-road, five-hour trek from Battle Mountain (they crossed 3 rivers/streams along the way). Page told us that only 7 people live in the town of Midas. He also told us what the BFE on his shirt stood for – Bum F*** Egypt. This is a local characterization of this part of Nevada. Page said he had a really religious woman once ask him what it stood for and he replied, “Big Friendly Environment!”

Salt Lake City

After returning to the main road, we continued towards Salt Lake City enjoying the interesting scenery along the way. We stopped short of the city to camp for the night near the famous Great Salt Lake at a place called Stansbury Island. After struggling a bit with the biting flies, we found a campsite and hunkered down for the night after watching a beautiful sunset.

The next morning happened to be Sunday, which meant we could go to the weekly concert of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir! We stopped by a laundry mat to get some much needed clean clothes and then headed towards the concert. It was amazing! Leo was most impressed by the 7,000+ pipe organ. The 360 person volunteer choir sounded like one voice. After the 30 minute show, we went to pick up our now dried clothes.

We returned to the Mormon headquarters, called Temple Square, to get a free tour of the campus. We joined a group led by two Mormon sisters, who were doing their 1.5 years of missionary work required of young members of the church at Temple Square. One sister was from Tahiti and the other from Washington state. It was an interesting tour where they told us about their beliefs while showing us some of the oldest buildings on the campus. Leo had lots of questions. 🙂

Potatoes!

After leaving Salt Lake City, we quickly entered Idaho. We made a quick stop at a local attraction called the Potato Museum to celebrate one of my favorite foods!  It was a really nice little museum, and we stopped by the café for some baked potatoes, huckleberry ice cream, and a Idaho spud candy bar. Before we left, the gift shop lady gave us some instant mashed potatoes saying, “Here’s some free taters for out-of-staters!”

Within a few hours, we had made it our campsite for the night, a place called Rainbow Point, right outside of Yellowstone. It was nice forested area next to a lake. We set up camp and walked down to lake. Leo decided to read by the lake while I read at the campsite and caught up with some family (cell service is hard to come by in these parts).

Yellowstone Days

The next morning we were off to Yellowstone! We first stopped by our campground to make sure we could get a spot for the next two nights. There are 12 campgrounds in the park, and they all fill up most days. Since they are first come first serve, you have to get there early to make sure you’ve got a place to sleep for the night. On our way in, we had to drive among the bison. There were surrounding our car!

After getting camp set up, we headed to grab a cup of joe and figure out what we wanted to do for the day. We went to Lake Village for our planning session. Yellowstone has all these little settlements with hotels, gift shops, and restaurants scattered across the park. We then stopped for a picnic lunch right by Lake Yellowstone. While driving around, we saw lots of elk and more bison.

We split up for a few hours since Leo wanted to climb a mountain. He dropped me off at Canyon Village to go the museum in the visitors’ center and wander around the shops. Meanwhile, he headed towards Duneraven Pass. Unfortunately, his hike was cut short because of the feet of snow since covering the trail.  

After we reunited, we took the north rim drive along the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone, which is deeper than the Grand Canyon in Arizona. We had some great views along the drive.

We decided to stop by the mud volcano on our way back. It was really interesting to watch the bubbling mud holes. Yellowstone is above a super volcano so the abundance of geysers and hot springs are because the of the volcanic activity occurring below. The mudspots are where the acidic water has broken down the surround rock and transformed it to mud.  As a plus on our way back to the parking lot, we saw a beautiful rainbow.

Headed back to camp, we saw what we thought was a wounded wolf right by the road. (I think we had seen the same animal earlier in the day). We stopped to take lots of pictures and then reported the injured animal to the rangers. We learned the next day, the wolf was actually a coyote, but it was neat nonetheless.

After a quick dinner at the campground, we headed to bed early.  We headed to Yellowstone’s most famous attraction, Old Faithful, early in the morning. We got there and only had to wait about 15 minutes for the geyser to erupt.

We headed a few miles down to the road to do a guided ranger walk to Mystic Falls. The hike started with us going through Biscuit Basin, which had some impressive geysers and hot springs. Then, we headed into the trees for a forested walk. Leo volunteered to be the artist and drew some pictures of what we saw on a whiteboard. We were pretended we were a group of early explorers. Another woman was in charge of counting all the distinct plants we saw during the hike. She had 60+ by the end of the walk. We also saw a mule deer on our way down.

We have really enjoyed going to ranger lead walks and talks during this trip. On this guided hike, we learned a lot about the local plants and animals. Adam, the ranger, also confirmed that the animal we saw the night before was a coyote and not a wolf, but he was impressed with our photo, nonetheless.

We then stopped by the Grand Prismatic Springs, which is a hot spring with many different colors. The colors come from bacteria that live in the water. The clearest blue is the hottest because no creature can survive the temperature! The spring was impressive, but also one of the most crowded places we visited.

After our hike, we returned to our campground for lunch and then set out with the mission to find more wildlife. We were recommended to check out the Lamar Valley region of the park for the best shot of seeing animals.

As luck would have it, as soon we got to Lamar Valley, we encountered tons of cars stopped — a tell-tell sign of wildlife in the park. There was a mother bison, whose calf had been killed by wolves. Apparently, she had been standing off the carcass all day trying to prevent the wolves from getting it. We also spotted a bald eagle.  According to some of the people with chairs up on a hill, this had been happening all day. We stayed and looked for a bit, but not much was happening. We decided to go on a hike and then stop on our way back to see if anything had developed.

We drove a few miles down the road, we set out on our hike. Within a few minutes, we spotted a black bear with her two cubs on the adjacent hill. Although the bears were plenty far away, we got a great view of them.

The people coming back from the hike said that they had seen a grizzly bear chasing the black bears earlier in the day. I was glad we were equipped with our bear spray although we never had to use it!

Along our hike, we saw lots of flowers, bison, and a really cool woodpecker, but no more bears. We were told by some other returning hikers that the spot where we saw the woodpecker they had seen two grizzly bears earlier in the day.

We headed back the way we came and once again saw tons of cars pulled off. We stopped and this time we were treated to some great views of a wolf. He even had the piece of bison meat. We also saw some pronghorns and of course, more bison. Those things were everywhere!

The bears were easy to see, but hard to capture on camera!

It was getting late so we headed back to our campsite. It took much longer than our initial journey because there was lots of wildlife along the road. We saw a grizzly bear and a black bear even walked right in front our car.

We got back to camp and started looking for kindling for a fire when our neighbor, Randy, invited us to join him at his fire. He was a friendly guy. He was a retired doctor from Spokane who was doing some fly fishing in Yellowstone and then headed to Colorado to visit a sick relative. He used to race sled dogs in Alaska so he told us some interesting stories. After a few hours, I called it a night while Leo hung out a bit longer.

The next morning, we made breakfast and headed towards Mammoth Springs, which was on our way out the park. After a bit of walking around the hot springs, we headed to the town and picked up a few souvenirs from the gift shop.  We left the park and headed to our destination for the night, Billings, MT.

A Night in Billings, MT

We arrived at our hotel, Dude Rancher Lodge, which was the second hotel we’ve stayed in that is a national historic landmark. Greeted by some very friendly folks at the front desk, we checked in to a nice, but retro room. Leo opted for a nap first and I very quickly took a shower. (For those who aren’t counting, we camped 4 nights in a row. That a pretty long stretch for a person, who has never really done much camping before). After we both got some rest, we headed out on the town.

Our first stop was a delicious steak dinner at Jake’s, which was just down the road from our hotel. Then, we popped in a nearby brewery, Montana Brewery. It was a hopping place with some good beers, but we couldn’t stay long because we were planning on catching a movie at local independent movie theater.

We arrived at the movie theater and found we were the only people there. The guy working, Matt, told us about the movie, which was called All Is True and was about the last days of Shakespeare’s life. Matt offered us some popcorn on the house since we were the only people there and we greatly enjoyed our private screening! After the movie, we headed back to the hotel and passed out.


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