After a great time in the Canadian Rockies it was time to head south across the US border and into Yellowstone National Park.
Our original plan was to head down to Waterton Lakes National Park on the US-Canada border and then into the adjoining Glacier National Park in northern Montana. Watching TV one night in Canmore we heard news reports that a wildfire was now threatening the town of Waterton and then watched scenes of people being evacuated from the hotel we had booked! A bit more investigation then also revealed that the famous 'Going to the Sun' Road that crosses Glacier National Park was also closed due to wildfires...
So, after some quick planning, we headed to Calgary and then south across the vast prairie lands to the border and into Sweet Grass Montana (you can't make these names up). Montana is the 4th largest state in terms of area but the 3rd most sparsely populated. It has the honour of having the smallest capital of all states - Helena, with just 32,000.
Our first stop back in the US was Shelby - population 3,300. Wikipedia gives this glowing summary of the climate in Shelby:
Long, severe winters give way to springlike weather anywhere from March to May. Summers can be extremely dry and hot, though it is not unusual to experience a snow flurry in July. The area is prone to heat lightning, hail, and severe thunderstorms during the summer months. Fall weather is often unpredictable, with snow falling during October some years, and temperatures well into the 80s stretching until the end of November on other years. Due to the city's location just off of the Rocky Mountain Front, wind is a constant.
After crossing the Continental Divide and making our way through the picturesque Prickly Pear Canyon, we came to Butte. Butte was once the largest copper mining town in the world. In the late 1800s, Butte was 'the' place in the Rocky Mountains. By 1920s there were over 60,000 people in the town and as a result the town has a large historic central business area. Today, with a population of only 33,000 people, Butte has an eery ghost-town-like feeling. A huge open-cut mine literally borders the central part of town, which gives the town the much fought-over Guinness World Record for the worlds largest toxic lake!
On our final stretch into Yellowstone we stopped at the historic gold mining town of Virginia City. The kids had a great time exploring the old town, which is part museum and part tourist town. It was in this small town that I saw a sign about a remarkable female pioneer of the area. Sarah Bickford was born in 1852 as a slave in Tennessee and went on to become a leading business woman in Virginia City in Montana. She attributed part of her success to training with International Correspondence School - the same school that expanded into Australia in 1910 and is now Open Colleges!
Yellowstone National Park was the first national park in the US and covers a vast area in north-west Wyoming. It is famous for its geysers and hot springs - thanks to sitting atop one of the largest active volcanoes in the US, its' spectacular grand canyon, pristine environment and wildlife. The park is a pilgrimage site for Americans. Despite being only two weeks from the formal close of most of the park for the winter, it was packed. Looking at the number plates in the car parks, it was clear that people travel from all over the US to visit Yellowstone. Luckily with so many roads and trails, it wasn't too hard to escape the crowds.
On our way into Yellowstone we stopped at the Bear and Wolf Sanctuary - a non-profit organisation caring for injured animals. The kids joined in on the Junior Zookeeper program that ultimately led to them hiding food in the bears' enclosure (we had to work hard to convince Thomas that the bears would not be in the enclosure when he was hiding the food!). It was great fun for the kids.
More recently, Yellowstone has become famous for the reintroduction of the grey wolf in 1995 - after the wolf had been hunted to extinction in the 1930s. The reintroduction was so successful it actually led to a fundamental change in the ecology of the park, including altering the path of a river (by reducing elk herds and increasing beaver populations).
We had a great time exploring the geysers and hot springs, but the highlight for the kids without doubt was the arrival of snow. When we arrived into the park just a few days earlier, it had been a warm 25'c. As the cold front crossed the northern states, the temperature dropped and the first snow for the season fell around Canyon Village. Sienna would awake each morning and rush to the window to see if the snow had come. She was so excited she had written a detailed list of all the things she wanted to do in the snow (we tried to let her know that it would not settle on the ground - so snow ball fights were unlikely). But the crazy mountain weather would have the last say on that...
During our visit to the US last year, Sienna participated in the Junior Ranger Program at the Devils Post Pile National Monument, which included completing a number of activities and tasks and then taking the Junior Ranger Oath. In Yellowstone, Sienna also completed the Junior Ranger program and had great fun working through the different tasks. But most of all, completing the Junior Ranger programs results in being awarded a badge (the old fashioned scouts type). Sienna has now made it her mission to become a Junior Ranger in as many National Parks as possible!
From Yellowstone it was a short drive south to the neighbouring Grand Teton National Park. Much smaller than Yellowstone National Park, Grand Teton is famous for the rugged Teton Range, a subrange of the Rocky Mountains. The absence of foothills makes the Teton Range appear all the more imposing: the range rises up over 2,000m from the surrounding plains to an elevation of 4,000m. This also makes the Teton Range a mecca for skiing and home to the world-renowned Jackson Hole Ski Resort, where we stayed for a couple of days.
On our first morning in Jackson Hole we awoke to snow falling around the village and a heavy dusting of snow across the mountains. By the afternoon the clouds had cleared from the mountains and we took the gondola up to the top of Rendezvous Mountain. We arrived to over 10cm of snow - just enough for a good snow fight, a snow man and a couple of snow angels. The kids were in heaven!
Our last night in Jackson Hole was eventful for all the wrong reasons. Thomas had come down with a high fever and sore throat in Yellowstone and so we had seen the doctor in the small community at Yellowstone Lake who had prescribed some antibiotics. He was recovering well and was pretty much back to normal when, on our last night in Jackson Hole, Thomas woke up fighting for breath. And so Thomas got to test out Wyoming's primary health care service and even managed a trip in the back of an ambulance at 3am. Thomas was treated for viral croup (possibly unrelated to his throat infection). He is now getting on top of the virus, but not before passing it on to Karen. Thankfully we had a few days in the warmer climes of Moab ahead and a chance to rest and recuperate. Meanwhile, through all this excitement, Sienna has yet again reaffirmed her Bohm-DNA by demonstrating a capacity to sleep through just about anything!
The Road to Yellowstone - Montana
Yellowstone National Park - Wildlife
Grand Canyon of Yellowstone
Yellowstone Geysers, Hot Springs and Snow!
Grand Tetons National Park
Jackson Hole Mountain Resort - More Snow!
Following the Snake River South to Utah