Roadtrip: Day Two – The day I fell in love with Montana

Another disclaimer: Apologies for the formatting today. Apparently WordPress is not a fan of text copied and pasted to it. I had to do some of this post offline as I had no internet connection. When I make my next stop I’ll attempt to clean it up some! 

Update: I cleaned up the formatting, hopefully it’s easier to read now!

If I see nothing else for the rest of the trip, it will have been completely worth it.

Once again I woke up bright and early, not quite as early as yesterday but I think I deserved a little extra sleep.

I got up and got ready for the day. I was only 3 and a half hours away from Glacier and I was ready to go. I got my complimentary hot breakfast from the hotel (I had a belgian waffle.) and then checked out and hit the road.

As I got further and further west, Montana’s landscape began to get more interesting. I see the beginnings of a trend here. The mountains hove in to view as I drove down the state highway. Montana’s speed limits are the best, by the way. 70 miles an hour on the state highways and 80 on the interstates. Has Minnesota beat hands down.

I passed through the last town of any real size, Browning, before making the final leg to St. Mary and Glacier National Park. It was quite desolate with a few abandoned buildings along the way. The road began to move in to the mountains here and I grew more and more excited. The place I’d seen before only in pictures was right here, I was seeing it! I got out of the car a couple times at turn-offs to snap a few pictures and then jump back in and keep going.
Eventually I got to St. Mary’s, a little strip of buildings, I wouldn’t even call it a town, on the outskirts of the park. As you get to St. Mary’s you drive around a curve and laid out in front of you is a long lake, water the color of aqua reflecting the sky and the mountains rising up behind it. I was awestruck before I even got in to the park proper. I pulled through in to the drive, going past the sign that said in big letters “Welcome to Glacier National Park.”. I stopped at the toll booth and actually bought the National Parks annual pass. This trip I was planning on at least going to Glacier and Yellowstone so it almost pays for itself, and I get to support the national parks which definitely is a good thing.

I got to chatting with the park ranger at the tollbooth, it wasn’t busy at all yet, and told him where I was from. He smiled and said he’d come up from Tennessee and loved it so much he decided to stay. I told him that this place has been on my list of places to see for a long time and he told me it wouldn’t disappoint.

It did not.

I was constantly stopping at the pull-offs to gape at the landscape and take pictures, a giant dorky smile on my face the entire time.

 

I spent hours in the park and could have spent hours more. Unfortunately the road wasn’t entirely open so you couldn’t drive from one side of the park to the other. Eventually you have to turn around and go out the way you came in. I was a bit disappointed when I learned about that before setting out on the trip, but I wasn’t when I got there. I’m sure that it’s an amazing experience to go from one end to the other but I did not miss it this time. Next time I’ll be sure to go when the road is completely open though.

I came back down the road and stopped at my favorite overlook to take a few more pictures before heading all the way down to the park entrance and visitor center. I looked around the souvenir shop and then decided to call it a day for Glacier National Park.

Now this is where I tell you that T-Mobile sucks. Yesterday while driving I get a text from T-Mobile saying that my roaming data is about to run out. I’ve used 160/200 megabytes of my allotted data. I was very confused, I didn’t even know there was a roaming data cap. Well, I hit my cap today while at Glacier. My next stop after Glacier was Yellowstone and Wyoming. Yellowstone actually being more of a ‘See as I drive through’ sort of thing. Well, I couldn’t pull out my route because I was out of roaming data of course. I sat in my car for about 10 minutes actually planning out a route using the map. This must what the pioneers felt like, right?

I was about an hour in to my route when I noticed that I had 4G signal! I pulled over to the side of the road and grabbed my phone, getting Google Maps to plot me a route. Finally the GPS came up and I let out a cheer. Go ahead and laugh at me, I know I do.

So my new route is to Gardiner, a teeny tiny town that’s the gateway to Yellowstone from the north. It’s five or six hours from Glacier National Park to Gardiner and I figured that’d give me a decent early stop for the day so I could relax for a bit and then hit the road and see Yellowstone in the morning.

Whelp, no not really.

First let me say that the drive to Gardiner once you get off the interstate on to the state highway is insanely beautiful. The mountains flank you on both sides with the Yellowstone river flowing past.

Anyway, back to the disappointment. I get in to Gardiner and see it’s pretty busy. They have several hotels and most of the parking lots are packed. I pull in to the Best Western but see the “No Vacancy” sign and do a quick U-Turn. I see the Comfort Inn across the way has “Vacancy” lit up and jump over there. I go in and ask the guy at the desk if I can get a room for the night. He’s super kind and very helpful, he fibs a bit and gets me as many discounts for the room as possible.

Two hundred and eighty-five dollars.

I was shellshocked. When he told me that I just repeated it back to him incredulously. The other clerk next to him smirked at me and said “Welcome to the resort.”. Settle down buddy, you’re a Comfort Inn. I know what he was saying but good god the way he said it brought my hackles up.

The first guy was very helpful and told me about a few other hotels around that might have vacancies if I wanted to price shop. I thanked him and was leaving when one of the other guests.. customers? I don’t know what to call them. He told me if I could wait a second his wife had an app on her phone that lets you look up hotels with decent prices. I think it had to do with only staying one night or something and I honestly can’t remember the name of the app.

(Everything written before this was written the evening of Sunday, May 27th. Everything after on the following Monday, May 28th.)
I talked to him and his wife for a bit, they had very nordic accents but their plates were from Florida. Both of them were several inches taller than me. I’m not a giant by any means, but I’m 6’3″. The guy was at least 6’8″ and his wife was probably 6’6″. I’ve met a lot of nice people on this trip and it was just fun to sit and chat with that couple for a few minutes, it’d already been a fairly long day of driving after all.

I got back in my car and on the road. I thought about checking out those other hotels but I knew they would all be expensive as well. As I was driving to Gardiner I was trying to decide if I wanted to stop there for the night or push through Yellowstone. Seems it was decided for me by penny-pinching.

I pulled through Gardiner to the entrance of Yellowstone. Call me a nerd but for some reason it felt to me like the scene in Jurassic Park when everyone is loaded in to the electric SUVs and are going through the gate in to the park. I didn’t quite feel the awe for Yellowstone that I did for Glacier but it was still impressive.

I showed off my annual pass to the ranger at the toll booth and drove in to the park.

Entering from the north side of Yellowstone was a good choice, it was very rocky and mountainous with several switchbacks along the road affording you a great view. There’s a little curated village at the top near the Mammoth Hot Springs. As I was driving through it all I could think was “If it’s $285 out there, I don’t want to know how much it’d cost to stay here.”. It was a little touristy with everything branded “Mammoth “. I saw a sign for “Mammoth Restrooms” for example. A neat little place all the same.

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So I wasn’t feeling all that tired at this point. If you remember, I was going to stop in Gardiner so I could have a little relaxation time and to be able to see Yellowstone in the morning and have a nice leisurely drive.

The sun was beginning to go down and Yellowstone was just beautiful. I stopped at a couple pullouts in the initial climb up, including the Golden Gate area. I couldn’t pass that up.

 

After grabbing a few pictures I got back on the road. Another aside, I used my phone exclusively for pictures during Day Two. I think they’re higher quality than the camera I had brought along for the trip.

As you get to the top of the switchbacks and the Mammoth Hot Springs a huge plain spreads out before you with snow-topped mountains rising up in the distance.

Yellowstone was pretty busy, even at this time. Not really surprising seeing as it’s Memorial Day weekend. Still, being in a large line of vehicles cruising through a national park was kind of surreal.

The sun had retreated beyond the horizon at this point and I made the decision that I’d camp out in Yellowstone for the night. I’d get some pictures of the night sky framing the mountains with the bright moon shining down. Well every campground I passed was full so I figured I’d just find a good pullout that had a treebreak so I wouldn’t have headlights shining in to my car all night and roll my sleeping bag in the back of the SUV.

I was to be disappointed on multiple fronts.

It started raining, the cloud cover pretty much complete, so my hopes of sleeping under a starry Yellowstone sky were dashed immediately. Also, on an unrelated note, did you guys know that it’s not allowed to ‘camp’ anywhere outside the designated campgrounds? I didn’t.

I was snugged up in my sleeping bag in the back of my Rogue actually working on this blog post so I could get it up the next day when I hit civilization and had internet access. I had been there about 45 minutes when a vehicle pulls in to the parking lot and I figure that it’s either someone that really has to pee or has the same idea as me. The vehicle pulled up directly behind me, headlights shining through my back windshield, and I’m thinking “So is this how I die?”. That’s when the red and blue lights came on.

I fumbled open the door which set off the car alarm (Whoops). The park ranger explained to me the above, no camping allowed outside designated camping areas. And they have a loose definition of camping, basically anything that constituted a sleeping area. I’m guessing that means you can pull off the road and take a quick catnap in your seat but my sleeping bag was well out. He suggested I head back the way I came and go out the west entrance to an area where this type of camping was allowed.

I apologized profusely and thanked him for his advice, then promptly ignored it. I didn’t want to backtrack, so I set back on the road. I was doing Yellowstone on hardmode, at night in the rain.

About 10 miles down the road I came up behind a white SUV who looked like they had the same idea as me, just get through. He was my traveling buddy for the next 50-60 miles, he had his brights on and my headlights gave him a little back-up. The rain let up after about a half hour and the moon broke weakly through the clouds to give a little extra illumination.

By the time I got out of Yellowstone and through the Tetons (Nice) park I was flagging a little bit but I wanted to push through to Dubois, Wyoming. The next town along the road that hopefully had a place I could crash for the night.

Only an hour or so down the road.

The hour was a bit harrowing with steep downgrades and sharp curves but I finally made it. Heaven is a Super 8 motel after 14 hours on the road.

I have a few regrets that I didn’t get to see all of Yellowstone in the daytime, what I did see was beautiful though. I imagine the roads I passed down through to get to Dubois had some beautiful sights too, I would have loved to see Jackson Lake pass by below me in the daylight as well.

But I’m looking forward. Today, more Wyoming on the way to Grand Junction, Colorado. The Rockies await.

2 thoughts on “Roadtrip: Day Two – The day I fell in love with Montana

  1. That sounds like a rough day but some incredibly beautiful pictures! It is sort of disappointing to know that the camping is limited to specific areas but I suppose it makes sense for the conservation of the park. It would be insanely expensive to keep it clean if people could dump their garbage anywhere after camping.

    Can you still hike through the park or is it a designated trails sort of thing?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Everything I saw in Yellowstone was a curated experience. You could stop at certain spots and there were boardwalks that you could go and walk on. I can understand it for the most part, parts of Yellowstone are straight up dangerous for people and they want to make sure that no one steps in to a hotspring by accident.

      That said, Glacier National park had a bunch of hiking trails and it looked like you could camp within the park. Also they did not recommend going off trail but there wasn’t anything explicitly forbidding it that I saw. I’m not sure why the difference between the two because Glacier has its own dangers as well with the terrain and wildlife.

      And yeah, I definitely see why they have the rule in Yellowstone. They get a ton of traffic in there and it makes it easier to contain things. I’m sure it’s also for visitor safety if they can keep everyone in designated areas.

      Like

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