Westward Ho(ly Cow)! Episode 1: Walk on the Wild Side

After months of tweaking the itinerary, we were finally ready to head west on our epic, 5 ½ month road trip. We pulled out of our driveway in Okeechobee, FL early Sunday morning with the plan to arrive at our Airbnb in Big Sky, MT on Thursday.

And we’re off!

We built in a little extra time for sightseeing, including stops in Tupelo, MS at Elvis’s birthplace, a Graceland drive-by,

the gates to Graceland, Memphis, TN

And the 27-mile scenic tour of South Dakota’s Badlands.

Oscar and Maddie tour the Badlands!

You can view photos of our quickie trip though the Badlands here:

South Dakota Badlands
hover on the photo and then arrow through the set

It was a long time to be in the car, but there was no traffic and 2,800 miles later we arrived in Big Sky as scheduled.

a long time to be in the car!

Domenick’s condo could not have been more perfect for us AND Oscar & Maddie.  We had plenty of room to spread out and since it was a corner unit, plenty of privacy.

our home for the next 32 nights

It was located at the base of Lone Mountain, which offered us gorgeous views every time we stepped outdoors.

view of Lone Mountain from our back door

You can find Domenick’s condo on the Airbnb website here:

https://www.airbnb.com/rooms/30390273?source_impression_id=p3_1664575694_v44XN83Fv8RFy9N6

Yellowstone is as beautiful as they say – awe-inspiring around every curve of the road and unlike anywhere else on the planet.

coyote on Hayden Valley Road

But at 2.2 million acres, it is also massive. We spent our first week simply driving around, getting an idea of where everything was located and identifying the places we wanted to explore in depth.

Lewis Canyon

The weather was perfect:  the mornings started chilly, but it warmed up nicely with blue skies and plenty of sunshine each afternoon. The fall colors had started to turn,

fall colors on the Gallatin River

And the rivers were full of fly-fishermen. They made for such good subjects it was impossible to not snap a photo or two as we drove along.

fly fishing on the Firehole River

There is an affordable audio tour app called GyPSy Guide, which I had purchased for Yellowstone & Grand Teton.

https://gypsyguide.com/home/

It proved to be an excellent way to navigate around the park and also hear enriching facts and stories as we drove along.

According to our Gypsy guide, the Madison River sees over 200,000 angler days per year –that’s an average of almost six hundred anglers Every. Single. Day! p.s. We named the narrator “Edward” after our wonderful guide in South Africa.

“200,000 angler days per year on the Madison River”

We also spent one day driving around the west side of the Tetons, over the pass, through Grand Teton NP, and then home via Yellowstone.

Teton Mountains looking east near Driggs, Idaho
top of Teton Pass, elevation 8,431 ft!

Given my absolute terror of heights, it was all I could do to snap the few pics I did while on Teton Pass. I was too busy breathing into a paper bag and eating crybaby pie.

oh my lordy lord!

It made for a long, nine-hour day (O & M are SUCH troopers!!)

our little road buddies

But we were rewarded with gorgeous views of the mountains from both the west and east sides.

view from Grand Tetons National Park

And at the end of the day, we spied a group of male moose grazing in a meadow alongside the road. Just that quick, my life count for moose jumped from zero to three!

two moose bulls
Thank You to the kind (and very talented) gentleman who offered to snap this pic!

The first thing most people think about when they hear “Yellowstone” is Old Faithful.  But the park is made up of over 10,000 hydrothermal features including geysers, beautifully colored hot springs, steaming fumaroles, and boiling mud pots.  The land is truly wild!  Instead of racing through the park, trying to see as many features as we possibly could, we chose to visit places we had targeted to thoroughly explore:

Upper Geyser Basin, which has the most concentrated grouping of hydrothermal features in the world, including Old Faithful.

Old Faithful erupting around noon

We stayed long enough to see Old Faithful erupt three different times, from three different vantage points.

Old Faithful two-minute time lapse

On our 6-mile hike around the Upper Basin, we also saw Anemone, Spasmodic, and Beehive Geysers erupt.

Beehive Geyser

We walked as far as Morning Glory Pool, which is sadly fading due to all the coins and other items people keep throwing into the center.

Morning Glory Pool
warning signs everywhere and yet …

Midway Geyser Basin, home to the Grand Prismatic Spring, third largest hot spring in the world, and Excelsior Geyser.

Grand Prismatic Spring
Excelsior Geyser

We even managed the one-mile hike up to the Grand Prismatic Overlook.

Grand Prismatic Spring
obligatory couple’s selfie

A beautiful afternoon at the Fountain Paint Pots in the Lower Geyser Basin, with views of all four of Yellowstone’s hydrothermal features: geysers, hot springs, mud pots, and fumaroles.

a fumarole at Fountain Paint Pots – turn up the volume to hear the steam hissing out of the ground!
Clepsydra Geyser at Fountain Paint Pots

And a full day at Mammoth Hot Springs, with its amazing travertine terraces.

the terraces at Mammoth Hot Springs
Mammoth Hot Springs from the upper boardwalk

You can view all of our hydrothermal photos here:

Yellowstone National Park
hover on photo and then arrow through the set

Of course, Yellowstone is also all about the wildlife!  I kept a count of all the animals and birds we spied and for “too many to count” I put an “X.” 

our animal count 9/24-10/22/2022

By noon on our first day, bison were already an “X.”  They are everywhere!

bison herd
bison on the road

One afternoon we received intel that Yellowstone’s celebrity grizzly bears, “Raspberry” and her cub, “Jam” had been spotted in the eastern section of the park. Raspberry is a 15-year-old sow with a history of keeping her cubs longer than usual. Typically, around two years bear cubs are on their own so that the mother can mate again, but in the spring of 2022, Raspberry and 2 1/2-year-old Jam were still seen together.

Raspberry and Jam

After a bit of detective work, we determined the general area. As we rounded a curve, we knew we were in the right place: a crowd of 150+ armed with big-lens cameras and binocs were all pointed in the same direction.

we knew we were in the right place!

Sure enough, Raspberry and Jam were there – a good 200 yards away and in harsh mid-day light but a thrill, nonetheless.

Raspberry and Jam!

And as if that were not enough, on our drive home we spotted a mountain goat, grazing high up on the side of a hill. What a magical, mystical end to our day!

mountain goat

TG had been battling a cough and a friend suggested it might be allergies.  So, one Sunday afternoon we drove down the mountain for some local honey – a good home remedy.  And on the way, we came upon a moose family grazing right by the side of the road!

Wow!

Besides beautifully terraced hot springs, Mammoth is also home to dozens of elk who like to hang out around the buildings and nicely manicured lawns. But that doesn’t mean they are in any way tame. Rangers are posted everywhere, reminding you to keep your distance.

the elk at Mammoth like to hang around the buildings

On our way home that day we spied three more moose: a bull who was doing his best to hit on two cows, neither of which wanted anything to do with him. But Oscar and Maddie had been in the kennel since early morning, so we had to hurry home before the grand finale — if there even was one.

she wanted nothing to do with him!

You can view all of our wildlife photos here:

Yellowstone National Park
hover over photo and then arrow through the set

Between all the rivers, waterfalls, lakes, and deep canyons that make up Yellowstone National Park, there are wildly beautiful landscapes everywhere you turn.

Golden Gate on the way to Mammoth Hot Springs
LeHardy Rapids – a hidden gem!

Artist’s Point is an iconic “must-photograph” image. It is a glorious waterfall that drops 308ft into the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone.

Artist’s Point

Hayden and Lamar Valleys have sweeping open plains with huge herds of bison and other animals,

Lamar Valley pano

Firehole River was named by early trappers for the rising steam which makes it look like it’s on fire.

Firehole Falls

And is one of only two places inside the park where you can actually swim!

you bet I dipped my toes in the river!

And Yellowstone Lake, the largest lake above 7,000 feet in North America. Research has found that if one could empty all the water out of Yellowstone Lake, the bottom is similar to what is found on the land: geysers, hot springs, and deep canyons.

panoramic view of Yellowstone Lake from Lake Butte Overlook
Indian Pond with Yellowstone Lake in the background

We also spent a day driving to Upper Mesa Falls, located about an hour west of Yellowstone.  A wooden boardwalk lets you get so close you can feel the mist from the spray!

Upper Mesa Falls

And another delightful afternoon hiking to Ousel Falls, located in Big Sky.

Ousel Falls, Big Sky MT

You can view all of our landscape photos here:

Yellowstone National Park
hover on photo and then arrow through the set

“Animal Jams” are a quintessential part of Yellowstone. The animals in the park roam free, and that means they sometimes use the same roads we drive on.

a bit intimidating coming right at you!

On any given day, at any given time, in any given place you are likely to encounter stopped traffic. But it’s all part of the park’s experience so you just enjoy it — and try not to get frustrated!

we waited in this line for 90 minutes while a herd of bison lumbered along at 2mph

We had been in the Yellowstone area for a month and thus far blessed with unseasonably mild weather: warm days with plenty of blue skies and bright sunshine. But the forecast for the weekend of Oct 22 and into the following week did not look good. We decided to take advantage of what might be our last warm, sunny day and drive down to Grand Teton for some landscape shots.

Grand Teton National Park family portrait
T.A. Moulton’s famous barn
Oscar and Maddie enjoying the view from Schwabacher Landing

It’s a long 4-hour drive in good weather so we also booked an overnight at the Cowboy Village in Jackson.

our adorable little cabin at Cowboy Village, Jackson

We spent all day Friday in the park, shooting landscapes

Oxbow Bend, Grand Teton National Park
outhouse with the best view ever!

And all the wildlife we happened upon. In that one day of driving around, we saw a big male grizzly bear, a very dark gray wolf, a bald eagle, nine different moose (yes!!), a coyote, a ruffed grouse, and a little black bear.

a black bear enjoying some huckleberries

Old Man Winter showed up with a vengeance on Saturday morning.

Just like that we went from Indian Summer to Winter!

It took us 7 1/2 hours to get home. Part of that was driving below the speed limit on snowy, mountain roads. But we also sat for an hour in a “snow jam.” Someone had slid off the road and the rangers stopped traffic in both directions while we all waited for the tow truck. When the guilty car finally came by (his “drive of shame”) we saw it was a Range Rover of all things! I guess the guy got overly confident.

sitting in a “snow jam”

In spite of the wild drive home, it was well worth the trip!

“Home Sweet Home” looking a lot different than 32 hours ago!

Before we left Florida, I had already penciled this episode as “Walk on the Wild Side” for the “Wild West” and “wildlife” connotations.  But between the wildly fantastic hydrothermal features of the park,

Grand Prismatic Spring colors close-up

All the wildly beautiful landscapes,

Yellowstone River

All the wildlife we saw, and the wild weather our last time driving through the park, our 32 nights in Yellowstone were indeed a Walk on the Wild Side!

little cinnamon bear

If you haven’t gotten enough photos, you can also check out our entire Flickr albums, which include pics not in any of the above categories as well as all of TG’s beautiful panoramas.

TG: https://www.flickr.com/photos/werdnanilmot/albums/72177720302405041

JET: https://www.flickr.com/photos/jetomlin/albums/72177720302490368

Coming next: Westward Ho(ly Cow) Episode 2 “The Grand Splurge”

1982: our wedding eve

Author: TG&jet

Nature photographers - wildlife, landscapes, underwater; travelers; bloggers

4 thoughts on “Westward Ho(ly Cow)! Episode 1: Walk on the Wild Side”

    1. Thank you! We loved the Badlands too and hopefully someday will go back. The more we travel around the USA, the more wonderful places we are discovering!

      Liked by 1 person

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