Visitors to the Travel Gumbo website first had an opportunity to meet my pal, Deborah, when I celebrated my birthday in San Francisco’s Chinatown. Deb grew up in Montana and returns regularly to visit her family and her favorite place on earth, Yellowstone National Park.
I’ve seen a lot of the world but I’d never been to Yellowstone, nor Idaho nor Montana. It occurred to me that having a guide who knew it as well as she did would be reason enough to consider a trip. So one day last summer I said to her, “if you’d like company on one of your Yellowstone trips, just give a whistle”. Not long afterward she did just that and planning began! We would go in mid-September when the crowds had thinned and be in the park just before much of it closed for the winter at the end of the month.
Usually something of a control queen regarding travel plans, I found that knowing nothing about the details of this one, leaving the logistics to my knowledgeable companion, was completely wonderful. Not to mention, Deb, a professional driver, would be my chauffeur in her big plush pick-up truck.
The plan was to drive east from Northern California, through Donner Pass into Nevada, a left turn at Wells, where I-80 intersects Highway 93, on into southern Idaho, a right turn to the east again and approach the park through the Tetons. We left Sacramento in the late morning of September 15th after parking my car at the airport for my return. A stop for lunch in Reno at a deli Deb knew, then east again, arriving in Wells in good time to check into the Motel 6. Breakfast next morning was around the corner at Bella’s Espresso House.
Lava Hot Springs, Idaho
Our target that day was Lava Hot Springs in the southeast corner of Idaho, a perfect jumping off point for the Tetons, not to mention the hot springs themselves and the massage that was waiting for Deb’s arrival. So after breakfast at Bella’s, we turned north onto 93, known as the Great Basin Highway, a right at Twin Falls, a short leg south from Pocatello to highway 30 and on into Lava Hot Springs on the Portneuf River. This was where the trip really began for me.
I love small towns and Lava Hot Springs is that, with its name attraction that brings in the visitors. We checked into the Lava Spa Motel, then walked across the road and the river to the hot springs complex. I soaked in one of several pools while Deb had her massage, then soaked some more when she joined me, two very relaxed and happy road trippers. It was the perfect time of year, not too busy in the pools. Dinner later was pizza down the street, everything being down the street in Lava Hot Springs.
Fall Color, Lava Hot Springs
Entering Grand Teton National Park
In the morning we drove east, then south on Highway 30 to the junction with 89 at Montpelier, Idaho, then north again into Wyoming where I was reminded of a landscape I love, around Fort Bridger a hundred miles to the south where my family settled before the Civil War and cousins are cattle ranchers. We rolled into Jackson and chose El Abuelito for lunch. Afterward, a slow-moving progress through the traffic in Jackson town center, with a short detour for Deb to show me what I’d miss if we didn’t park (nothing, except maybe ice cream). Pointing her trusty pick-up north again, we passed through the magnificence of the Tetons.
Entering Yellowstone from the south entrance and driving parallel to the Lewis River, just north of its confluence with the Snake, we saw cars parked at the side of the road, a sure sign I was to learn, that wildlife was nearby. Authoritative voices in the small crowd declared it was a grizzly and Deborah noted it was an excellent omen, to see one at all, let alone in our first minutes in the park. I was thrilled.
Firehole River & Grand Prismatic Spring
We drove on into the park, past Old Faithful and the beautiful old inn named for the geyser, to Madison Campground where we had a reservation, or so we thought. The ranger told Deb our booking began not this night but the following one. Oh, no! But we were lucky, he said, there was a campsite available just where we wanted to be, close to the facilities. We made a fire, had our dinner and turned in to the unmistakable sound of trumpeting elk. If you’ve never heard it, you’ll know it when you do!
Next week, we begin where we must, at Old Faithful.
All chapters of PortMoresby's Yellowstone.
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