Headed West to Yellowstone

2016-08-05 - Headed West to Yellowstone (1)

Boy, I’m runnin’ from the law.

First of all, if you haven’t listened to the song Firearm by Casey Baker and the Buffalo Sinners, please do so now and enjoy what I consider lyrically one of the best tunes ever composed (you’ll also understand the reference above).

We were actually headed southeast towards it, but Yellowstone Park was the ultimate destination of our 10 day road trip, with plenty of stops before and after. As our busy summer now continues I have no time to post extensively about each place we saw along the way back, so let me break it down into brief daily summaries.

Day 1:

The wife picked me up from work with the car fully packed and we headed straight for the US border, driving hours straight to make it before nightfall. We made good time, arriving in Washington with plenty of evening to spare. Our first stop was a pot shop for after-dinner provisions, and from there on to Coleville where scripture was printed in abundance on walls throughout town. There we shared a round of PBRs in the local bowling alley against a backdrop of Jeremiah 29:11, while a resident parrot named Striker whistled provocatively at us. Then it was off to Acorn Saloon where we exercised our “eat whatever the fuck we like on vacation” diet with a late meal of nachos and deep-fried green beans. We shared a joint on the warm walk to our motel, where we easily sunk into peaceful slumber.

Day 2:

2016-08-05 - Headed West to Yellowstone (2)Continental breakfast in our motel room surrounded by the preserved trophies of impressively-sized catches from seas throughout the world, followed by this trip’s first drive-thru coffee hut (one of my favourite features of driving through Western America), and then we crossed into Idaho in the direction of Silverwood Amusement Park. Arriving just in time for the gates to open, we headed straight for the Aftershock to ensure spots on its looped and steeply plunging rails, having been deprived of the experience on a previous trip to the park (see May Long Thrills). No inclement weather came in our way this time, and with the short morning lineups we were soon speeding through the sky. The rest of the day was spent on additional roller coasters and getting soaked in the adjacent water park, broken up in the middle with what turned out to be a spectacular magic show by Nick Norton. The park did eventually close, but nighttime activity was still thriving in the nearby lakeside community of Couer d’Alene. There we wound down with choice beers from a broad selection at Crafted Tap House before retiring to our lighthouse themed motel room, complete with a “magic fingers” hookup on the bed. Its vibrations soothed us into sleep.

Day 3:

New territory. Our first excursion as a couple into Montana. We stopped for brunch at the Hob Nob in Missoula, while people with flotation devices convened in mass at the river down the street to cope with summer heat. We sought similar refreshment at our campground just outside of town, where we lounged on camp chairs in a creek. Things finally cooled off when the sun went down, and clusters of stars and bats claimed its space in the sky. The rumbling of trains and yelping of peacocks somewhere in the darkness, both common nighttime noises in the neighbourhood I grew up in, soothed me while we shivered in our tent.

Day 4:

Next stop, Butte. It was probably more my immaturity than my lack of knowing any better that I kept mistakenly referring to the place using the gluteus maximus pronunciation, but at least one business there planned to capitalize on people like me with a banner outside that read “Butte Stuff.” Anyways, we strolled around its streets in search of Prime Times, which although entirely banned from Canada turned out to be nearly as elusive in this section of America. I was disappointed when the cigarillos became prohibited at home due to their sugary taste apparently holding too much appeal for children, even though a multitude of other flavoured tobacco products remain sanctioned in the country. A young gal at one of the smoke shops we stopped at agreed that this is silly, pointing out that they still allow “the flavoured vodkas.” We did eventually find a store that had a couple packs, so we stocked up on our way to Sparky’s Garage for a BBQ lunch. A subsequent low-stakes gamble on the slots at a gas station casino, and we moved on to our next campsite in West Yellowstone. Close by we found a place offering old-timey photo shoots, and we managed to squeeze ourselves in between two sessions for a picture of us posing as a barroom outlaw and his buxom mistress.

Day 5:

2016-08-05 - Headed West to Yellowstone (3)The morning of our wedding anniversary we entered Wyoming and Yellowstone Park, and within 10 minutes we had already spotted a herd of elk crossing a stream and a buffalo grazing by the roadside. Soon we came upon what I thought at first to be the smoke of controlled burns, but which turned out to be the expulsions of small geysers. While other people pulled over to look at these we held out for the big one: Old Faithful. Not the biggest or most regular, but the biggest of the regulars. We showed up early in its cycle, securing a good vista and long wait for its next eruption. It was over an hour before it burst its liquid 100 or so feet in the air, shooting its contents repeatedly in spasms of waning volume like an orgasm coming to completion. And like restless lovers we didn’t long linger afterwards, proceeding instead along an often steep and winding road through walls of trees, over mountains and alongside canyons to end up at Gardiner, back in Montana. We headed to the Antler Pub for a feast of elk and bison, followed up dinner with a round of whiskeys, neat, at the Two Bit Saloon, and topped the evening off with wine and huckleberry ice cream on the balcony of our small cottage rental overlooking Yellowstone River. Cheers to three years of travel as husband and wife!

Day 6:

This drive was a long one. 6 hours to Kalispell if done without pause, but of course we stopped along the way. Our first detour was in Bozeman, its main street a blend of unique businesses and local beer options. One, REVOLVR Menswear, even blended the two, offering us a complimentary tasting flight from a tap in the corner as we perused shirts and pants. From there we took a back road into the middle of nowhere, stopping again to picnic on the roadside by a lake while we watched a lone swan do laps back and forth, until the sound of a rattlesnake motivated us to get back in our car. We drove it the rest of the way to Kalispell, grabbed one last Montanan barbeque dinner at the Desoto Grill, and settled in at our campground, watching distant lightning streak across pink skies.

Day 7:

2016-08-05 - Headed West to Yellowstone (4)An early rise, breakfast at a diner in a small town down the highway, and we began our ascent up the Going-to-the-Sun Road in Glacier National Park. We traversed its narrow switchback lanes with vertical cliffs plummeting from the side we drove on, apprehensive of potential peril while admiring the views thus afforded. At the top, after circling at least a couple dozen times to chance upon an open parking spot, we ditched our vehicle to begin a 3 hour roundtrip hike to Hidden Lake. The way was long and sometimes difficult in the heat and my own foolishly selected outfit of a jeans and black t-shirt, but the wildlife and geologic sights along the way were spectacular, as was the refreshing feeling of cool water on our skin when we descended into the lake’s valley to touch upon its shore. Upon returning we descended the road on the other side of the mountain and crossed back across the border into Alberta, where we met up with some friends in Lethbridge for drinks, smokes, and general catching up on all we had missed of each other’s lives in the 5 years since we last saw one another. Not to mention a pet fix with their cat and dog who reminded us much of our own at home that we were starting to miss. This lasted until things got late and we retired to our bedroom for the evening, where in one corner a long low-ceilinged corridor in led to a small door that opened into a crawlspace, where our friends upon moving in had discovered a few old scattered wooden toys. CREEPY!

Day 8:

In the morning we left Westward on Highway 1. A couple of friends from my high school grad class happened to be heading in the opposite direction, and our paths happened to cross in Canmore, where another member of our class happens to be amassing a culinary empire (see http://www.blakecanmore.com/). This mini reunion took place at his PD3, a bus converted into a food truck with a dining area on the upper deck and equipped with a bar serving prosecco on tap (an additional, full scale restaurant is coming this fall). The food at the existing site was delicious, and we gorged on appies before parting our separate ways. The two of us, we went to our hotel room to meet up with my wife’s cousin and her fiancé, and as a foursome visited the Grizzly Paw Brewing Company for a nightcap.

Day 9:

The last full day of our trip, another spent in Canmore. Hiking was within our hopes, but charcoal skies inhibited our ambitions lest we find ourselves caught in a downpour far from shelter. Instead we opted to traverse the trails nearest our hotel. No matter how hard we tried to immerse ourselves in nature, however, we kept inadvertently wandering into backyards and golf course greens. The sky did start to sprinkle as we expected, so we headed into the heart of town and took refuge in Murrieta’s for a fancy dinner, at which point the clouds dumped what seemed like spilled oceans and we were happy to be inside drinking wine. Things mellowed out as we finished our meals, and we made it down the street to the Drake just in time for the deluge to begin again. We shared a couple rounds, and during the storm’s next intermission paid our bill and made hast to our room for refuge under dry sheets.

Day 10:

2016-08-05 - Headed West to Yellowstone (5)The days of our trip had gone by with regrettable rapidity, but looking back we were surprised to reflect on just how much we had crammed into their brief expanse. We hit the road a final time. Another day of hours spent driving, without the thrill of novel destinations, but with the warming comfort of returning home.

– Cory Stumpf


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