After leaving LA, we jumped ahead an hour in the timezone and landed in Denver, Colorado. We realise it's not that close to Yellowstone, but we chose to fly in and out of Denver and drive to Yellowstone so we could catch up with some more relatives after the trip. Yes - I have relatives everywhere.
We picked up our hire car, it was the cheapest we could find, and therefore the smallest imaginable. Lachy was now my chauffeur in the luxuriously spacious Mitsubishi Mirage. We looked ridiculous driving the roads surrounded by the Chevrolet Silverado, Ford F-250 (and larger), Dodge RAMs, Hummers and the list goes on. We can safely say that we did not see one car smaller than ours.
The drive was around 9 hours. So we decided to rest up in Denver for a night, then get up early to make it to Yellowstone. We chose the cheapest accommodation we could find, after all, we are on a budget! It was on the outskirts on Denver... Denver was a beautiful city, until about two blocks before this motel. Midway through check in, car upon car of misfits, potential drug addicts and potential drug dealers started to arrive. This made us question our choice of accommodation, but - it was too late now!
Lachy was especially antsy. I just tried to keep a low profile. Lachy didn't let me talk in front of anyone. Because he didn't want them to know we were from out of town. Captain Safety!
We had to wait for everyone to be gone before carrying our bags to the room, because Lachy didn't want anyone to know what room we were in. As we walked down the corridor, Lachy silently pointed out the broken locks on doors that he presumed had been rammed through by some form of law enforcement. Always the observant one, I didn't notice what he was pointing out until he mentioned it again a couple of days later.
While standing on the private balcony having a cigarette, Lachy noticed the pool that was advertised at check in. The pool was empty of water but full of outdoor furniture. It was the most quintessential s*** hole of a motel that you may have seen on the movies. When I showered behind the curtain, I just imagined that scene of Psycho and had to double check the door was locked.
While I slept soundly, Lachy chose to sleep with one eye open and with the gaucho knife I had purchased for him in Argentina by his side.
The following morning, we were on our way! It was highly exciting, but it was a long drive. The country music channel can only entertain you for so long. The religious channels are even worse... We ended up getting entertainment by googling things about America that we wanted to learn more about. While Lachy drove, I read to him about the American Civil War - we are now experts. As long as Wikipedia is correct...
The closer we got to Yellowstone, the more excited Lachy got. When Lachy gets excited, he loses all sense of practicality. He asks stupid questions and doesn't listen. Being the navigator, I would tell him which way to go. But if he saw a sign that mentioned Yellowstone, he would want to take it. As we drove through Rock Springs (still a good 250km from Yellowstone) he saw a sign that read "Yellowstone Road and Fair Grounds", and he tried to take it even though I had previously said (numerous times) "go straight for the next 100 miles".
When we were nearly there, we stopped in Jackson to refuel and pick up some camping equipment. We also picked up some bear spray. Initially we thought this was a joke for tourists (like drop bears). But turns out - it's a real thing. So we got a bottle of that too. This was when we found out about the 100 year anniversary Yellowstone was celebrating. We were told we would be lucky to get a campsite... Given the size of our tiny vehicle, we thought we could probably squeeze in unnoticed anywhere. But crossed our fingers and headed into the National Park. We saw only one campsite had availability, so we snagged a spot and paid for three nights. Luckily we did, because the following day, every campsite was full. Our campsite was near the south entrance, so on our first night, we didn't see a lot of the park. But planned out for a full day the following morning.
Rested and refreshed after our night on the cold, hard and wet ground in our tiny two man tent (the only thing in America that was smaller than our car) we sourced coffee and started our adventure.
The first stop was Old Faithful - the geyser that pretty much erupts the same time every day. You wouldn't read about our incredible timing. We parked the car and walked towards the geyser, with Lachy running ahead like a kid at Christmas trying to see what Santa had put under the tree. He was hurrying me along and we arrived at the famous geyser with a minute to spare. Some how, without even knowing, we had timed it perfectly, and after watching for around a minute, the geyser started to erupt.
Needless to say, Lachy was ecstatic. We spent the next hour or so wandering the boardwalk and looking at numerous other geysers erupt or staring into the magical and colourful depths of the springs in front of us. Knowing we had a time limit, and there is so much more of Yellowstone to see, we started back to the car. But were redirected to take the longer route. This was because of two giant Bison sitting on the side of the road. They were the first of the Yellowstone animals we had seen, and we were taken with their size and stature. Little did we know, we would see hundreds of Bison over the next couple of days.
We worked our way north, with goals of catching a glimpse of a Grizzly Bear or a Moose. We saw the Gibbon Falls, the Steamboat Geyser, Sheepeater Cliff (a cliff made up of quickly cooled volcanic lava to make the cliff face full of hexagonal shaped columns). These were just some of the amazing sites. You could feel the heat of the steam from the geysers and springs, which was great on a cold and windy day. Once I was sure that the smell of rotten eggs was from the sulphur, and not from Lachy farting, I was happy to continue. There isn't the time or space to discuss everything we saw, but we made it to the North-West corner on our first day. To the Mammoth Hot Springs where the mineral laden hot water from within the Earth's crust would find its way to the surface and build tier upon tier of cascading terraced stone.
By the end of day one, we had seen several Bison, some female elk, one make elk (even though an American we spoke to tried to say it was a Moose, it wasn't) and numerous chipmunks. Yet, no Grizzly, which was Lachy's aim, and no Moose, which was mine.
Our second night at camp we struck up a conversation with our neighbours, a family from Oregon. Two of the boys (around 16 and 18) had their pistols strapped to their hip in case of a bear attack. The family were exceptionally welcoming, and we ended up spending hours by their campfire having a drink and chatting, they even fed us a steak for dinner! Most of the conversation was about the difference in gun laws, the upcoming elections, American news and who ate all the peanut m&ms. We were initially careful about what we said about Clinton, Trump and gun laws, but although they were big into their guns. They were the ones who said something needs to be done in America about gun control. Which allowed us to breathe a sigh of relief and tell them our opinions.
Day two at Yellowstone, we knew we had a lot more to see, and we planned to spend the day going up the east side, chasing waterfalls. We saw Yellowstone Lake, which is absolutely huge (132 square miles) and puts Lake Eildon to shame. Heading north, we saw Mud Volcano, which was constantly erupting in the 1800s until it blew itself apart and now just bubbles.
We wandered the edge of the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone and to the view points of the Upper and Lower Falls. Which are 109 feet and 308 feet. (Yes, I know these are all American dimensions, but I'm in America and can't be bother converting).
We continued further North, with the aim of trying to see some wolves in Lamar Valley. As we went, we saw a kerfuffle on the side of the road. We parked and went to see what the fuss was about (as normally is means an animal of some sort). Lo and behold - our first bear! It was a black bear sleeping on a rock. We got our photos and continued on. Only a couple of kilometres along the road, black bear number two! We ended up seeing four black bears that day, as well as a wolf (from a distance trough binoculars), hundreds of Bison, a fox, a coyote and numerous chipmunks. Alas, no Grizzly or Moose.
Night number three our hospitable neighbours had left us. So, like the peasants we are, we had to build our own fire. That being said, we did have the wood our friendly neighbours had left for us. An easy dinner of cheese, dip and biscuits and we went to bed with the intention of getting up early to try and spot more animals. It rained all night, so we didn't get up early. But again, our timing couldn't have been more perfect. On our way to see some geysers we had missed on day one, there was about 30 people and a ranger on the side of the road. So we parked, and what did we find... A grizzly bear! Again, Lachy was like a kid at Christmas. We got a great view of the bear, but Lachy and I are in contention as to how close we got to it. So, I'll just say we could see it. But yet, no Moose.
We left Yellowstone content with the amount we had crammed in to such a short amount of time. Ready to make our way back to Colorado.