By the time we hit up Rocky Mountain, most of the holiday traffic had receded and we were able to enjoy a beautiful day exploring the different ecosystems the park has to offer without all the added stress of tourist throngs. We spent about half a day which was enough time to explore about half the park. We entered by way of Estes Park and worked our way up along the Trail Ridge Road. The road itself was once a hunting trail used by ancient inhabitants of the area. Now it’s the best way to “car hike” the park through its sub-alpine, alpine, and tundra systems. The Tundra was pretty awesome. Barren with just a few scrubby plants clinging to the landscape…and cold. Having never been in such an environment before I have to say it was my favorite part of the park. We stopped at the Alpine Visitors’ Center for lunch and spotted an elk herd hanging out on a patch of snow.
In the evening we visited Boulder where my friend Kelly lives and had a great time eating too many nachos and catching up. Bear had a great time at Pearl Street, exploring the parks and ultimately taking the plunge into the water fountain. We were so glad he was recovered from his illness and could really enjoy himself.
No Rainbows at the Rainbow Overlook, but really…who needs one?
Rock stream in the Tundra
A quiet moment
My sweet Bear (Photo by: Kelly True)
Wild nights on Pearl St
A moment of triumph
Our next big stop was at Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks. I’d visited Yellowstone for the first time nearly 10 years ago and absolutely loved it. I was really looking forward to sharing with with DB and the Bear. Of course, trying to do that on the 5th of July was probably not the best idea, but we worked with our dealt hand just the same. We entered the park through the West entrance and headed up to Mammoth Hot Springs. Poor Bear was still feeling under the weather, but by the time we hit the Hot Springs Visitor Center he seemed in better spirits and we thought we’d grab lunch and take a walk on the boardwalk. Naturally, as soon as we put in our food order the fire alarm in the restaurant went off. It seemed like DB and I were the first ones to stand up and realize that we should probably get out of there, but soon everyone followed suit to a portico across the way. While we waited for the alarm to be cleared by the fire marshall a hail storm rolled up. The Bear thought it was awesome, of course. Unfortunately, it became evident that neither the fire alarm or the rains were going anywhere so when it let up a bit we hightailed it back to the car and continued south skipped Old Faithful and heading straight into Grand Teton.
After a long and stressful day sitting in wildlife jams and dealing with terrible drivers, we were relieved to take in the quiet of the Tetons, majestic against the receding storm clouds. We hardly saw anyone on the roads and had a quiet drive down to the Hostel in Jackson Hole where we spent the night. The following morning we did a quick visit back into the park and then continued on our way.
It can be tough traveling with a toddler on a good day. Traveling with a sick toddler brings its own set of challenges. DB and I were both itching to bust out the Osprey and take the Bear into the parks to see and experience the environment around us, but it wasn’t meant to be. At least now we have a better idea of the places we want to revisit when he’s a bit older. We agreed before we left that this trip was more of an overview to get our feet wet. We knew we wouldn’t be able to spend the amount of time in the parks that we wanted to, but we figured car hiking was better than no visit at all, and we were right. These are beautiful and majestic places that everyone should have a chance to see, no matter how briefly.
Taking in a display at the visitors’ center
Dad, try this water, it’s awesome.
…and then it hailed
The Hot Springs
The Yellowstone Valley
Our first view of the Tetons
We were soooo tired
Clouds rolling through the valley
The first major stop on our cross country adventure was Glacier National Park. We set ourselves up in Kalispell, MT for two nights and were able to get one full day in the park, though sadly the Bear was quite ill so we weren’t able to get out and explore as much as we would have liked. None the less, we got a gorgeous overview (minus the throngs of other tourists) and can’t wait to go back at some point. The Going to the Sun Road was every bit, if not more, beautiful as the guidebooks make it out to be. We started off cruising past Lake McDonald and then stopped for a quick hike through the Trail of Cedars. From there we hugged the cliffside as we winded our way up through the glacier carved valley, admiring waterfalls and trying not to hit any other distracted drivers (pro tip: avoid all National Parks on major summer holidays, like 4th of July). We stopped briefly to picnic at Logan Pass and continued on to view the Jackson Glacier. For a place that was carved out by these massive living ice sheets, only the Jackson Glacier is still viewable from the road. The rest have retreated into the parks interior and it’s estimated by 2035 they’ll be gone completely. This was put into perspective for us when we realized the Bear would be just about finished high school when this happens. We stopped for a few photos at St. Mary’s Lake and then headed back to enjoy the valley views once more.
We had hoped to go back for a bit the following day, but unfortunately poor Bear had come down with a nasty virus. We spent most of the night in the ER and the next several days dosing him with ibuprofen to keep his fever down. Poor little guy, I know he was terribly uncomfortable, but he handled it so well.
On the Trail of Cedars near the Avalanche Campground
Rushing glacial waters on the Trail of Cedars
Before the sickness really kicked in
Along the Going to the Sun Road
More views along the road
St Mary’s Lake
Enjoying some much needed fresh air
Waterfalls along the Going to the Sun Road
A beautiful afternoon