My hiking partner for the Yellowstone trip is my friend Mel from Edmonton, Alberta. This post includes my favourite photo of Mel taken at the hot spring ‘Ojo Caliente’ (‘hot eye’ en español’) near the Firehole River in Yellowstone National Park on the 2003 Grand Canyon mission.
Mel and I meet in July, 2003 when four of us paddle the 5 day, 120 KM, wilderness canoe circuit of 11 lakes and 7 portages at Bowron Lakes in British Columbia, Canada. My canoe partner is Ken and we will always be grateful to Mel and Richard, for demonstrating one optional entry from McLeary Lake into the fast flowing Caribou River.
In September of 2003, Mel and I become better acquainted when Mel, Richard and I hike across the Grand Canyon from North to South. On the drive home we spend a few hours in the SW quadrant of Yellowstone National Park to experience geo-thermal activity. It is an awesome and unique location. In subsequent conversations we agree to return to Yellowstone to hike the first, very large National Park within the United States.
This trip is the culmination of a 3 year dream. Mel and I get along very well which is a major achievement by itself. Prior to the Grand Canyon we had not previously hiked as a pair nor spent a lot of one-on-one time together. To be with anyone 24/7 is a challenge. We manage well and share a lot of laughs. Mel and I leave Calgary very early and the sun, rising behind us on this clear day, creates a spectacular, iridescent, orange glow over grain fields as we sail through Lethbridge and pass turnouts to Waterton Lakes National Park and Writing-on-Stone Provincial Park in Milk River before arriving at US Customs in Coutts, Alberta. Within a few minutes we are into Sweetgrass, Montana and continuing south on Interstate 15 past Glacier National Park in Montana. Montana’s grassland is similar to driving across south Saskatchewan.
Grain fields mercifully give way to a view of a large butte as we travel into the beautiful and scenic Big Belt Mountain area of Montana. We have been gradually gaining elevation as we move towards the Continental Divide. Straight highway changes to twists and turns as we wind our way through and over mountain passes before stopping at an overlook near the head waters of the Missouri River which, thousands of kilometres later, merges with the mighty Mississippi before flowing into the Gulf of Mexico. This site is near the location of St. Peter’s Mission established by the Jesuits in 1866. The Jesuits established a school for Indian and white children. A small group of Metis (people of Indian and white descent) settled near this mission after the unsuccessful 1870 rebellion in Canada. One of them, Louis Riel, became a teacher at St. Peter’s until some of his compatriots ask him, in 1884, to help in a second unsuccessful rebellion resulting in Riel being hanged. This area is rich in history; a large part of it is French influenced. Lewis and Clark travelled through here on their quest to reach the Pacific Ocean. Evidence of their historical journey is prominent.
We stop for lunch in Helena, Montana then continue south through grassy mountains. We drive through Teton County and arrive at the scenic overlook above Butte, Montana where we will end our first day of travel. Butte is the site of the historic Berkley Mine, the ‘greatest mining camp on earth built on the richest hill in the world’ which produced over 2 billion dollars worth of gold, silver, copper and zinc. There are over 5,000 KM of working and abandoned shafts beneath the city which reach a depth of 1,300 m.
Mining began in 1864 and continues today on a much smaller scale. Behind this lookout, on top of the Continental Divide is ‘Our Lady of the Rockies’; the 30 M statue and adjoining chapel built by volunteers to honour the contribution made by women to original explorers, miners and settlers.
Early on Sunday, ‘Our Lady of the Rockies’ is brightly lighted and makes a bold statement from the mountain top as she looks out over Butte. After breakfast, we do a driving tour of historical, fascinating architecture in upper Butte. Then we are back on the rollercoaster road, back and forth across the Continental Divide. Weathered rock formations on surrounding mountains stand like man-made statues.
Driving south along the winding, twisting road skirting the west border of Yellowstone National Park we enjoy wonderful, roadside views of Spanish Creek, Hell-Roaring Creek and the Gallatin River. We progressively immerse ourselves in taller and breathtakingly beautiful mountains illuminated by orange morning light. We are at high altitude with sagebrush around us as we drive through valleys filled with mystical early morning mist and smoke.
Mid-morning we arrive at the village of West Yellowstone and purchase our annual park pass. Twenty-three kilometres east into the park we turn south at Madison Junction, past mountains and fields filled with large herds of buffalo against a backdrop of hot springs steaming in crisp morning air. As we continue south, we pass many geysers and hot spring basins including Old Faithful and West Thumb. We cross over the Continental Divide 3 times and rest at Lewis Falls.
At the south entrance of Yellowstone we immediately enter Grand Teton National Park. Continuing south, we enjoy magnificent views of the Teton Mountains. Beyond the south entrance of the park we arrive mid-afternoon in Jackson Hole, Wyoming.
For the rest of the day we relax and take a walking tour of Jackson Hole. It is highly reminiscent of Banff Townsite, Banff National Park in Canada, only with a western atmosphere. The heavily treed town square, with a war memorial at the centre, has unique arches at each corner made from elk horns.
We are on plan, the weather is excellent, cool at night, hot and sunny during the day, and it stays that way for the next two weeks. Tomorrow we will hike Death Canyon in Grand Teton National Park.