Friday, June 6, 2014

Travel Day 6: West Yellowstone, MT to Arco, ID (via Yellowstone NP & Grand Teton NP)

Sleep was absolute crap last night. I was plenty tired, so I'm not entirely sure what happened. On the upside, I got an earlier start with breakfast... and updates... and getting on the road... and everything. It's a good thing too - the later in the day, the more and more people made their way back into Yellowstone with me. 

My intention for this morning was to continue the loop towards the south entrance, maybe stop off and make the obligatory visit with Old Faithful, and then exit from there. What I actually did was hike around a couple of the larger geyser basins, drove a couple of the side roads that not too many people take to see some waterfalls, drive to Old Faithful... arrived as it was erupting... looked at it for a second from the Jeep in the parking lot, and continued on my merry way. 

The last bit of my drive through Yellowstone was the southern route - this is one I don't recall having driving before. It certainly didn't disappoint, and it did give me some more look at the snow.

Grand Teton National Park was next. I'd never been there before, and had no idea what to expect. I did like the amount of villages on the route - Yellowstone is so spread out that sometimes you're driving a sizable distance to get what you're looking for. But what really blew me away was the views!


I also didn't realize that upon exiting the southern end of the Tetons, you end up in the touristy ski town of Jackson Hole. While I'd heard of it before... I think I was simply oblivious as to where it was. I've been enlightened... and now I want to go back there some winter to go snowboarding. 

Continuing over the Teton range and into Idaho, the landscape went from mountain ranges, to valley in a heartbeat. If not for the giants on the horizon, I could have mistaken the area for Iowa. I passed through Idaho Falls and caught up with US 20 again, moving west. 

Just past Idaho Falls, the landscape seemed to become flat, dull, and barren. But, the farther I went, the more things just felt... 'strange.' I couldn't put my finger on why. Just eerie - kinda like the area might have been reminiscent of some sort of test range. There are buildings on the northern horizon, but all roads and paths leading towards them had 'restricted' signs. Mysterious. 

Turns out I was driving through Idaho National Laboratory land - 900 square miles of land dedicated to national-level nuclear lab and testing. Yikes! No wonder it was so strange and secretive. 

I escaped the nuclear void, and next went to another odd area area that I hoped I would have time to visit. Craters of the Moon National Monument - just west of Arco, ID. This place is a little surreal. The change in the landscape is night and day. You go from driving in high-desert scrub to entering a world of black lava rock surfaces and remnants of old volcanoes. After cruising through the nuclear area, this seemed oddly appropriate. 

The park wasn't very large. The main road through was under 10 miles in total. I stayed for about 3 hours, did a little bit of light hiking. All the really cool-sounding things were a farther range than I wanted to do for as late in the evening as it had gotten. Things like hiking up to the top of dead volcanoes to see the craters and hiking down into caves (to harass the bats). Instead of going to the next town west for the evening, I came back to Arco instead. It was the closer of the towns. So, tomorrow I may stop back on my way by and do one or two of the things I passed on tonight.