Once we admitted that Going To The Sun Road wouldn’t open in time, we finished up what we could in Glacier and abandoned the quest. I was getting excited to introduce Brooke to some more of my family, a particularly hardcore half of the bloodline that we’re very proud of. We dropped down the southern side of Montana, passed back through Missoula, and ended the day in Grandpa Territory!
We arrived in Hamilton and were greeted immediately with big smiles and warm hugs. Fergy and Vivian were
allegedly thrilled to host us and we were equally happy to accept. We stayed for four or five days and had an amazing time. Brooke and I received top-notch educational tours of Hamilton and got a full dose of Bitterroot Valley history. In the evenings, the four of us had dinner together and then listened to Vivian play piano, which was a concert by itself. On our first day, Fergy introduced us to his newly adopted children. We were moderately alarmed at first but it turned out to be several families of ducks and geese that had learned he could be extorted for cracked corn.
We took turns throughout each day being the Most Popular Human Ambassador to the duck-lands. Even though the geese are fierce warriors, Brooke and I tried to get them to eat out of our hands but they were too paranoid for that. It was cute to see the mama ducks standing guard while all the babies ate their fill though. We were told that some of them don’t even bother leaving for the winter anymore – They just stick around and freeload on the consistent food. What a convenient lifestyle!
When the ducks and geese were satisfied, Fergy and I found some time to talk about his old sniper video games and I wound up showing him about Steam and Left 4 Dead (for starters!). He was convinced that the zombie scourge needed to be handled by somebody with experience so he installed it and we all took turns get mauled to death in a video game we really weren’t prepared for at all. However, I really enjoyed seeing Brooke and my grandpa take turns occasionally grinding up zombies with a chainsaw. Truly a once-in-a-lifetime spectacle.
I was also telling Fergy about our cameras and all the photos that we had been taking and I was showing him all about my next planned purchase – A DJI Mavic Pro drone. I got extra hyped because I had finished researching drones and was getting close to ordering one for myself. We were watching some of the sample footage on Youtube and seeing everything that they could do and the videos were incredible. A few days later, Fergy got a box before we left and I almost fell over when I found out I had accidentally talked him into ordering the Mavic Pro.
Technically speaking, the Mavic Pro is a masterpiece. It has a great camera with a three-axis gimbal and stabilizer and flight capabilities well exceeding the needs of all but the most experienced users. The wings also fold in to make it smaller than an average tennis shoe. Needless to say, we spent a considerable amount of our remaining time in Hamilton testing it out. We even got a video flyover of Vivian’s house which just had the roof replaced that week. Fergy surprised me yet again by sending the drone with us on the conditions that 1) it’s only a long-term loan (yes, of course, most definitely, absolutely) and 2) we have to send him all the best photos and videos.
After spending almost a week in Hamilton, we said our goodbyes and departed. As sad as each goodbye is, I couldn’t help but stay cheerful. We were finally heading to Yellowstone, which had been my number one destination since we started the trip.
Yellowstone National Park
We were finally there. It only took us several months, but we were finally spending the weekend in Yellowstone. We drove from Hamilton down to the North entrance on Saturday and saw Mammoth Hot Springs first. Yellowstone National Park sits on a volcano with the explosive capacity to make Mt. St. Helens look like a sneeze. Because of the intense geothermal activity just below the surface, most of the region is an off-limits “thermal area.” We learned that in some places throughout the park the ground was only a few inches thick with boiling water just beneath. The water is also host to a variety of colorful bacteria that thrive in such high temperatures and give the hot springs their unique colors.
At Mammoth Hot Springs, the water bubbles to the surface with dissolved limestone in it. The water evaporates and leaves deposits of travertine that form naturally-occurring terraces that are constantly growing and shifting. The underground heat patterns are constantly changing and as a result, the springs are too. As we walked, we saw baby springs just starting to form and large springs that had since stopped flowing.
It was around this time that we decided to send the Mavic on its maiden voyage. We found a less-than-crowded spot on the boardwalk and launched the drone. I’m not an expert (yet!) but I’m pretty pleased with the first round of photos.
We had driven in earlier that morning and we were beginning to lose daylight but we decided to make a stop to walk through the Norris Geyser Basin before it was too late in the evening. It was a really strange experience following a narrow boardwalk past so many geysers. Remembering that just below each of them was lava became difficult. We saw several that had been around long enough to be named and it was a fun game to imagine which new ones would be named and how long a named one had to be dead to lose the one it had. It was so surreal that we *almost* didn’t notice the constant, invasive, sulfur-y fart smell.
After the Norris Geyser Basin, it was dark and we headed to West Yellowstone to camp out in a BLM area for the night since it was the closest we could find. We woke up bright and early the next morning to finally fulfill my United States travel dream – To see the Grand Prismatic Spring. I could hardly drive straight from the excitement. When we arrived, we were disappointed to see signs prohibiting the use of drones and we learned just how seriously illegal our Mammoth flight had been. Not discouraged by that or by the massive amount of visitors, we crossed the bridge over the Firehole River and followed the boardwalk around the Excelsior Geyser Crater. Past that, we finally saw it.
… Just from a distance. The area around the Grand Prismatic Spring is very delicate and the boardwalk doesn’t take you close enough. I was upset because I hadn’t realized just how far away we would be. I thought about purchasing a standing ladder from a hardware store and coming back but that may have been unreasonable. We settled for the still relatively gorgeous view from afar and gave our spot to the tourists behind us. The Grand Prismatic Spring now behind us, our journey pressed forward to the east side of the park by Lake Yellowstone, Hayden Valley, and nearly every single buffalo left in the United States.
We were amazed. We expected Yellowstone to be a bigger-than-average park like the ones we had seen before but we were blown away by what I would describe as five or six consecutive natural wonders. Yellowstone National Park is the most beautiful and mind-blowing thing I’ve ever seen. Having come with high expectations, we found ourselves leaving the park very satisfied.
Before we could even leave though, we found a group of people on the very edge of Yellowstone parked on a bridge. Irritated that four people would park on a bridge and stop traffic, we kindly asked if everything was okay. Brooke almost jumped out of the car on the spot when somebody mentioned they had seen a bear in the distance. We pulled over to the shoulder at the end of the bridge and walked back to mingle with the suspicious people. Turns out, they were right!
They stuck around for a short time and wandered off without further interest in the paparazzi they attracted. Brooke checked bears off of her “To-See” list and I did the same for the spring. The Yellowstone trip was a success! We drove to Cody, Wyoming that Sunday night, as exhausted and fulfilled as usual. We weren’t very excited about the upcoming beeline to Chicago, but despite that we still agreed that everything is fine.