The Yellowstone hiking adventure begins with a drive from Calgary, Alberta to Jackson Hole, Wyoming, USA.
The drive south begins very early from Calgary, Alberta, Canada and the rising sun creates a spectacular, iridescent, orange glow over grain fields on the drive through Lethbridge and past 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 the drive passes through Sweetgrass, Montana and continues south on Interstate 15 past Glacier National Park in Montana. Montana’s grassland is similar to driving across south Saskatchewan in Canada.
Grain fields mercifully give way to a distant view of a large butte on the drive south into the beautiful and scenic Big Belt Mountain area of Montana. Elevation is gradually increasing on the drive towards the Continental Divide. Straight highway changes to twists and turns on winding highway over mountain passes before stopping at an overlook near the head waters of the Missouri River. Thousands of kilometers later, the Missouri River merges with the mighty Mississippi before flowing into the Gulf of Mexico.
This area 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 Métis (people of Indian and white descent) settled near this mission after the unsuccessful 1870 rebellion in Canada.
One of the 'rebels', 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. This incursion subsequently resulted in Riel being hanged.
The area is rich in history; a large part of it is French influenced. Lewis and Clark traveled through here on their quest to reach the Pacific Ocean. Evidence of their historical journey is prominent.
A stop for lunch in Helena, Montana interrupts the drive south through grassy mountains. The drive through Teton County precludes arrival at the scenic overlook across the mining city of Butte, Montana where the first day of travel ends.
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. Butte is a very unique and interesting city.
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 (98½ foot) statue and adjoining chapel built by volunteers to honor the contribution made by women for 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, there is time for a quick driving tour of historical and fascinating architecture in Upper Butte.
Back on the roller coaster highway, good pavement weaves its way 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, there are impressive roadside views of Spanish Creek, Hell-Roaring Creek and the Gallatin River.
Progressively, immersion into taller and breathtakingly beautiful mountains, illuminated by orange morning light, is a spiritual experience. At high altitude, with surrounding sagebrush, the drive continues through mystical valleys filled with early morning mist and smoke from far-away forest fires.
Arrival at the village of West Yellowstone occurs mid-morning. Purchase of an annual park pass for $50 US will greatly reduce the cost of multiple entries and exits from Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming, USA.
Twenty-three kilometers east into the park, a turn south at Madison Junction drives past mountains and fields filled with large herds of buffalo against a backdrop of hot springs steaming in crisp morning air. On the continuing drive south, many geysers and hot spring basins, including Old Faithful and West Thumb are featured as the journey crosses over the Continental Divide 3 times. Time is taken for a rest stop and short hike at Lewis Falls.
The south entrance for Yellowstone National Park immediately enters Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming, USA. Continuing south, there are magnificent views of the Teton Mountains on the far side of the infamous Snake River. At mid-afternoon the arrival at Jackson Hole, Wyoming ends driving for this day. Jackson Hole will be the first staging location for hiking in Grand Teton National Park.
The rest of the day is spent relaxing and enjoying a walking tour of unique features in Jackson Hole. This town with character is somewhat reminiscent of the Town of Banff in Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada, only with a distinct western atmosphere. The heavily treed town square, wrapped around a war memorial, hosts unique arches at each corner made from elk horns.
The plan is on mark. Weather is excellent, cool at night, hot and sunny during the day, and it stays that way for the next two weeks.
Tomorrow the hike into Death Canyon in Grand Teton National Park will be the first major hike of this trip. The next day will be far more challenging than expected.