We crossed the state border into Idaho, traveling at warp speed (or 80mph) on I-15 through Pocatello and Idaho Falls. We regrettably passed up the Museum of Clean in Pocatello, the only museum of its kind in the world, that boasted 75,000 sq ft of ‘fascinating and unique items spanning 2,000 year of cleaning history’ including, but not limited to, a chimney sweep experience, the world’s largest janitor, luck with a floor buffer and fun cleaning games. Maybe next time. We could have traveled a bit further to the Idaho Potato Museum in Blackfoot, but we’d stopped there on our last trip through in 2012 and, not to disparage the museum, once is really enough.
At last, we turned off the interstate onto US-20, then opted for ID-47, the Mesa Falls Scenic Byway and really slowed down. We counted ourselves lucky that we found the last available spot in the Warm River Campground near Ashton, Idaho. Surrounded in quaking aspen, the campsite was quite lovely and secluded though a little inconvenient with the parking area below and the site up a hill on a dusty path.
Tubing and angling are the big draw here and the place was packed. We dipped out toes in the river and, despite all the folks floating down the river, it was anything but warm.
Everyone was on the river, so we had the Railroad Grade Trail pretty much to ourselves. As we’d just learned at Golden Spike NHS, a 2% grade is the maximum for railroads and the gentle grade was most pleasant for lazy walkers on a warm day. We walked for a mile or so in the evening and then explored a few miles further the following morning.
Wildflowers bloomed profusely. Wood nymph butterflies were everywhere. The gush of the river below the trail mixed with early morning birdsong was a delight.
We continued on the Mesa Falls Scenic Byway with stops at the Lower Mesa Falls (65’ high) and the Upper Mesa Falls (114’ high) of the Snake River. ‘Today, Upper and Lower Mesa Falls are the last prominent waterfalls on the Snake River to resist human control.’ En route, the Grand Tetons could be seen in the hazy distance. For some great pictures of the Grand Tetons, check out our last visit to Grand Teton National Park.
We spent several frustrating hours in West Yellowstone trying to post a blog! It’s a fairly simple process on Squarespace to transfer already written text and add a few photos. The key is reasonable Internet. McDonalds is usually pretty reliable, but the place was a madhouse of tourists and the Internet was tortoise slow. We tried the library, but it was closed and the ‘free West Yellowstone wifi’ was akin to Jellystone or Flintstone wifi, i.e. comical ... it didn’t work. My temperament does not deal well with frustration (go figure) and I was ready to throw in the towel (and the laptop and the town of West Yellowstone). Even-keeled David, on the other hand, suggested one more stop at the Yellowstone Visitor’s Center, which, of course, worked like a charm.
We worked our way through just a corner of northwest Yellowstone National Park. We passed up the fumeroles and mudpots and headed for the North Entrance/Exit. I know it sounds like a travesty to be in Yellowstone and not stop, but really, this is not the time of year to visit this amazing place. The roads were crowded; every turn-off and point of interest was crammed with tourists, standing room only. Every campsite had been filled by reservation for months. Limited first-come/first-serve sites are filled by 8-9am each day. We scoured the horizon for wildlife as we drove, but saw only two elk cows and a calf. We’d last visited Yellowstone in mid-May 2012 and it was fabulous. Off-season is the way to go.
Late in the day, having crossed into Montana, we searched along US-89 for an available campsite and came upon Canyon Campground in Gallatin National Forest. It was, believe it or not, in a canyon, the Yellowstone River just a stone’s throw across the highway.
It was not the optimal campground. It was kind of desolate, had no fresh water and no trash (pack in/pack out). We plodded along the dusty, pot-holed gravel road assessing possible sites. Was it (1) available? (2) level? (3) kind of private? There were only 14 sites in the entire campground and most were taken. As luck would have it, we found a suitable site and claimed it as our own. At $3.50/night … it’s hard to complain. Huge … really huge … lichen-covered boulders were the distinguishing feature of this park and lent some eye candy to an otherwise lackluster site.
There were signs for bears and rattlesnakes, but it was two hefty, barking pit bulls that met me when I stepped out of Blue. Our neighbor couldn’t hear the barking of his dogs over his generator noise. Our granddog, Olive, is a pit bull and like her, these two were thankfully friendly. They preferred sleeping under our picnic table or at our feet, but roamed freely in the campground. At one point, the owner stuck his head out the door of his trailer, saw them in our campsite and went back inside. They evidently startled a few new arrivals who approached us accusingly, asking rather sternly that we leash our dogs. ‘Sorry, not our dogs’ and pointed to our neighbor’s trailer. No one ever did approach the owner whom we saw only fleeting glimpses of in his dirty white ‘wife beater’ t-shirt. One night here would be enough.