Tag Archives: Fall in Yellowstone

10/10/2019 Rocky Mountain RV Park day 29

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Headed Home along the Gibbon River

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Pools and Terraces Upper Mammoth Hot Springs

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Sunset Over Gardiner Mt

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Winter Came Early

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No Snowy Wet Boots Inside!

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Sunrise Yesterday, Cold and Overcast

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Local Mule Deer

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Rocky Mountain RV Park

Jessica returned my call yesterday.  She was overnighting with family in Bozeman.  The roads back to camp were treacherous.  “Day called on account of snow!  We’re hunkerin’ down here. Curtis is at the park.”   I told her we’d stay last night and tonight while the weather breaks.  We could stay over Friday to Saturday too.  Rocky Mountain Park closes October 15th. 

Today, Thursday, is cold with temps in the mid teens.   We had clear skies this morning for sunrise, though clouds are moving in.  It is calm, there is no wind. The Navion couple left this morning.  They tow a vehicle so I figure they’re gone.

We may take Li’l Beast down the hill to Gardiner for a change of scenery. The road between Gardiner and Cooke through the park and Lamar Valley is open.  I mentioned this to Ellen, who was not impressed.  It’s too cold to have fun there today.  That is the only road open in Yellowstone.  All roads south are closed.

There are RV Parks open going south. In West Yellowstone there’s Buffalo Crossing with electricity.  They close on the 20th.  In Jackson there’s Fireside Resort which is expensive, but could be our only choice to stay near Grand Teton.  They are open year ‘round.  The Virginian (also expensive in season) closes 10/15 and will not be there for us.

Weather going south out of the high plains and mountains will be fine with daytime temps in the 40’s or more.  We’re in no rush to flee Yellowstone.

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Ellen’s Lunch, Huckleberry Sauce Left Background

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Cowboy’s

Late Morning

First off I headed to Antlers at the other end of town.  I wanted to check their menu.  It’s a lodge and bar/restaurant across the street from Outlaw’s Pizza and Casino.  Parking was easy, the lot was empty.  Antlers looked closed, but the front door opened and in I went.  I found a gal in the back room packing sandwiches into bags.  I startled her.  “You’re closed, right?”  They were, she had left the door unlocked.  I slip-slid to Outlaw’s and the local mall.  They too are closed.  In fact the entire mall was shut down.

We drove into Gardiner to top-up our propane and find something to eat.  The local propane company is family owned and has erratic hours.  A sign states “Open 7AM to 1AM Monday – Friday”.  That’s more a suggestion.  they were closed when we arrived at 12:20 AM.   We parked up the hill in an RV parking spot and walked down to Wonderland for lunch. 

Wonderland was closed.  They’ve changed their hours to 7AM to 11AM.  Gardiner is slowly shutting down.  We went to Cowboy’s with an “oh well, let’s see what this is like”.  We both had pork, mine in a BBQ sandwich, Ellen’s with mashed potato.  It was very good.  On the menu was a huckleberry Habanero sauce for a dollar more.   It sounds strange having huckleberry with BBQ sauce, but how could I pass up Huckleberry habanero?   It was so good I asked if they sold it.  “No, we make it ourselves here and don’t sell it.”  I had another “order” in a togo cup.  This sauce is great.  It has a heavy huckleberry flavor, probably a reduction, with just the right touch of habanero to give it a kick.  Scrumptious!

We dropped in at Yellowstone Wild to chat with Chris, but saw the Yellowstone Visitors Center was open and went there first.  A tall woman welcomed us in from her desk by the window to our left.  The visitor center is huge, walled with literally hundreds of brochures and maps of the area.  The massive fireplace stands mid-room.    I chatted with her as Ellen perused the literature.  “I’d get up to greet you, but my dog’s asleep on my lap.”  “Oh what kind of dog to you have”, Ellen perked up.  She rose to bring her baby dachshund over.  She was wrapped in a blanket and so tiny.  Ellen and I have both had dachshunds.  The three of us bonded over her dog.  “What’s her name?”   “Mango”

Chris had company, a local woman he was hiring to manage his shop.  We chatted a bit then headed off.

Back home four of the five other campers were gone.   We’ll head out tomorrow for points south.

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Man in the Moon

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Overnight Low

On our cold evening walk we met Rudi, the dog, and Kevin and Mindy.  “The only Rudi I know of is Rudi Giuliani” Ellen quipped.  “Let’s not talk politics”, I said. Kevin and Mindy live a few houses down the hill from Rocky Mountain RV Park.  Ellen and I dispute where they said they live.  Ellen says Indiana, I think Louisiana.  Either way they had been coming to Gardiner & Yellowstone for years then decided to boy here in Gardiner.  They stay a few months in the spring and a few months in the fall and rent the house out in the summer..  “It pays for itself”, said Kevin.  They invited us to join them for pool night at the Two Bit Saloon.

We have proven that Li’l Beast can sustain sub freezing temperatures better than we can!  Diesel gel has not been a problem either. Winnebago’s cold weather package does work.  On 10/10 the daytime temperature never rose above 28 F!  So long as we have an electric hookup to run resistive heaters on our tanks and adequate propane for our heater, we’ll be fine.

10/7 & 8/2019 Lamar Valley, Day 26 & 27

 

Video of coyote in Lamar Valley 10/8/19

https://youtu.be/YgwCZ-eiqk8

 

Video of the Junction Butte Wolf Pack Lamar Valley 10/8/19

https://youtu.be/Bn5VPnfFmmc

 

2nd Video of the Junction Butte Wolf Pack Lamar Valley 10/8/19

https://youtu.be/d3LBVZKVLSY

 

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Fall Colors, Cottonwoods in the Cold Valley

 

Lamar Valley 10/7

This morning the alarm jolted us awake and we rolled over.  We can go later, let’s sleep in a bit.  We did.

We drove off a full hour later as the sun was rising over the ridges.  It was over 50 F this morning.  Weird.  As we drove through Tower and toward Lamar Valley, the temp dropped to near freezing.

We drove to our now favorite spot for seeing the Junction Butte wolf pack.  As we neared the turn-out it was apparent we were too late to park.  There was no room for us.   As I drove by slowly, a ranger U-turned behind me.  He had just finished doling out a ticket.  I moved on, he followed.  There were no turnouts with available parking headed toward pebble creek. A large turnout appeared to our left and I turned in to turn around.  The ranger turned in behind.  Oh Crap, not again.  And again this time the ranger drove back toward the popular turn-outs.  I turned about and followed.  We passed “our spot” where the ranger had another customer.  The next spot up the valley had an opening for us.  There were people with spotting scopes out.  We stopped. 

We could see gray wolves in the far distance.  They were bedding down and not very active. Three tan colored creatures moved in from the right.  The gal beside us trained her scope on them and declared, “Wolf”.  While it is unusual to have three coyote ranging together, these were clearly coyote.   They were great to watch at less than half a mile.  The wolves were about 2 miles away.

Typical for us, though we were freezing at temps around 26 F, we were enchanted with the Valley and stayed for hours.  After a while we drove back down the valley, found more people out with spotting scopes, and stopped.  This turnout is huge and easily accommodated us.  “What are you seeing?”  “There’s a grizzly over there, in the tree line.”  It was far off.  Training our scopes on the bear, we saw the brown lump.  “There he is”, but the bear didn’t move at all.  Ellen walked up a nearby hill and motioned me over.  From there we could clearly see “the bear”.  A fellow photographer said, “That’s a Glacial Rock Bear, it moves at glacial speed.”  We all laughed.  It was a large brown rock.  Interestingly, the gal who spotted and watched the bear was the same one who cried “wolf” earlier.  Often we see what we want to see.

After watching coyote at (relatively) close range, I am convinced that last year’s light colored wolf was a coyote.

We headed back “home” sometime after noon.  Ellen wanted to find some hand warmers (she had one left over from last year that worked marvelously well).  I agreed.

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Wolves, Far Far Away

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See The Wolves? Not the Rocks!

 

Lamar Valley 10/8

Each visit to Lamar Valley is a treat.  The Junction Butte pack is very active this year.  It is optimal to arrive before sunrise both for a good parking spot and to see the wolves at their most active.  Yesterday, we failed the early arrival goal.  Last night I set the alarm another 20 minutes earlier.  We were determined to go back to “our spot”.

We left Rocky Mountain RV Park at 6 am.  It was cold at 24 F in Gardiner.  We expected far lower temps in the drive ahead.  Though we were early, three cars were ahead of us at the park entrance.   At Mammoth Hot Springs, the split off.  They were probably park employees.  The roads in Yellowstone are well maintained and easy to drive.  Often the speed limit seems far lower than the road could handle.  The speed limit is not about the road, it’s about the animals.  Around any turn we could be confronted by a bison, prong horn, or even bear.  I took driving the roads at less than the posted speed limit.  There’s no need to rush past would could be fantastic sightings.  In the near dark, we had no sightings and still no need for speed.

We scanned for bear where we saw the grizzly a few days ago; no sighting.  Dropping into Lamar Valley, just past the small sign, the pre-sunrise glow was showing over the ridges to the east.  We found a spot at our favorite spot and parked with Li’l Beast canted to the right enough to be problematic for the ‘fridge.  We turned the fridge off.

Watching the sunlight change as the sun rises over the valley is rewarding in itself.  About a mile and a half distant we could see wolves cavorting in the early morning.  If you know what to look for, you could see them with your naked eye.  Tiny black dots moving about in tall yellow grasses.  We could see head, body, legs, tail wagging with the spotting scope.  I took some video with the phone scope that is “ok”.  Even in the early morning, heat shimmer over a one to two mile range makes focus nearly impossible.

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Much Closer than the Wolves

While looking at the wolves, I heard a bugle behind. I uttered, “elk bugle” and was immediately corrected, “Coyote Howl”.  In my defense, the first few moments of the call did sound like an elk.  “The coyote is right there, on the near ridge beside that aspen.”  I trained the scope high on a far ridge and saw nothing.  Down a ridge, I saw nothing.  Then at the near ridge there was a small aspen and the coyote.  He filled the field of view and looked right at me.  Gorgeous.  He howled again as I mounted the phone scope.  At this distance focus was perfect.  With IPhone attached to the scope I found the coyote had gone.  I had another near miss.  No complaints, just seeing him up close like that was great.

Back to the wolves someone called out “grizzly, there near the tree line by the two rocks”.  Finding the two rocks at the tree line was easy.  To the right I saw the bear ambling about.  He was further out than the wolves and focus was a problem.  After a while he went back into the trees.

Daniel the photographer appeared beside us at some point.  He had a 500mm lens with a doubler on a 7D body.  Even so he didn’t have the  reach to get good photos of the wolves.  He dragged out a sigma 600mm on the doubler for comparison.  He said the added range was disappointing.  The 500 was better.  We had a wide ranging discussion of travel, photography, and how the best photos tell a story. 

More wolves arrived from the left and the right.  We counted ten, there could have been more.  While watching, a family parked behind us and was curious about what we were seeing.  I asked her youngest child, “would you like to see a wolf?”  Wide eyed she nodded her head.  I broke down my tripod to being it down to her level, centered one of the wolves, and asked her to look.  Her immediate reaction was to hold the scope that threw the wolf off screen.  I tried a few times, then her mom held her and helped her see the wolf.   We share our views with anyone interested, there’s something special about seeing the wolves through this little girl.

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Off the Road and Into the Sage Brush

 

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Crossing the Lamar River

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Idyllic Turnout headed Home

 

By around 12:30 we headed off to Mammoth in search of propane.  We had two days of very cold weather ahead and wanted a full tank to be safe.   Gardiner’s sole propane vendor was on vacation.  There is none available in Mammoth.  West Yellowstone was our only option.  I called ahead before we left.  We also called Jessica at Rocky Mountain RV Park to say we would be staying at least another two nights.

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West Yellowstone

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What is a Hong Kong waffle

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Mexican Food, Closed

As I mentioned earlier, Mountain Momma’s was closed.  We had no take-out chicken pot pie. We filled with propane, only 2.5 Gal and drove back toward Mammoth and home.  We stopped at most of the turn-outs between West Yellowstone and Madison Campground.  The road runs along the Madison River with amazing views  We missed taking photos of elk crossing the river and shaking the water off.

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The Madison River

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Upper Mammoth Hot Springs

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Terraces Upper Mammoth Hot Springs

Winter Coats.

At this time of year, elk take on their winter coat.  It starts off as thick brown nubs appearing along their backs.  Over time that fills out to a heavy fur coat.  Even bison develop a heavy coat over their fore body.  It’s amazing to see the daily change in our “home” elk.  I’m sure wolves develop a winter coat too, but we’ve not been able to see that much detail over such distance.

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Check Out These Winter Coats

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His Coat is Filling In Up Top

If you slow down, wait, and go back numerous times to favorite spots you may be rewarded with a once in a lifetime happening.   Now and then you may get a ‘one off’, just being in the right place at the right time.  More typically that exquisite experience goes to those who spend the time looking for it.  That throw away phrase popular 20 years ago, “been there, done that” is so revealing.  “There” is different each time if you’re open to the experience.

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Trophic Cascade Explained

Hayden Valley

Hayden Valley and Lamar Valley are often mentioned together.  One fellow I spoke with had wolves walk within 20 yards of him in Hayden Valley.  He hikes.  Before we go and if we can find campsites in Madison, we will visit Hayden Valley before moving to Grand Teton.

There is a citizen’s science group that keeps track of wolves in the park.  It is illegal for non park personnel to tag and track the wolves.  This citizens group gathers information from rangers and citizen sightings and presents the information on line here.

Rocky Mountain RV Park

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Luxury, Cappuccino in Bed

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Plans

It is 8:54 pm on 10/8/2019.  The expected snow arrived early in the morning and kept up until 3:00 in the afternoon.  We’ve had about 3 inches here in Gardiner.  I’m sure Yellowstone has seen from 6” to two feet in higher elevations.  We were concerned about our water tanks and lines.  Our water tank was warm to the touch.  We’ve left all cabinets that house water lines open. The light bulb in the outside water cabinet has kept it toasty warm.  So long as our propane lasts we’ll be fine in very low temps for a few days.

We have a small space heater that keeps us warm.  The propane heater doesn’t come on as much.  Tonight we’ll turn off the space heater for safety and keep the propane heater at 50 or 55.  We have had no condensation on the inside, though there could be some in the walls we’re not aware of.  I’m quite satisfied with Li’l Beast’s performance in sub freezing temps.  I’m a bit concerned with our diesel gelling, though that’s self correcting in higher temperatures. We should see temps in the 40’s on Friday.  If so we’ll push on to Madison (after getting propane in West Yellowstone).

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A Penny for Your Thoughts?

10/4/2019 Gardiner & Mammoth, Day 24

 

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Red Sided Winnie? Of Course!

Weather Report 10/4 “good buddy”

Again we were warned that overnight temperatures would drop below freezing and again it did not happen.  After midnight the low was 32 F and the high was 40 F.  It’s cold outdoors for a Californian, but it’s non threatening to an RV’s water system.  Wednesday is projected to be sub freezing all day though temps Tuesday and Thursday would be above freeing during the day.  Do I winterize, or do I find a way to heat the water tank and outside shower for 24 hours?    I’d much prefer the latter. Li’l Beast has the winter package with heaters on the gray and black tanks and a vent from the heater to the fresh water tank.  There’s a light in the water bay that should keep the outside shower lines from freezing.  I’ve been reading about using terrarium heaters  to avoid frozen RV plumbing.

At 8:57 it’s 37 F outside. I’m in no hurry to venture outdoors.  Rain and Snow is forecast for today and tomorrow.  The skies are darkening.

Happy Birthday

Ok, so Ellen said it’s not uncommon to celebrate decades birthdays for days or a week even.  Really, can I celebrate for a month or year?  Cool.  Ellen chirped, “Happy Birthday” again this morning. 

And In Florida Today

A mother tried to kill her children by slamming her van into a tree at high speed. “He put a hex on me and caused the crash” speaking to police about her husband.

Man jumps out of bush to wish father in-law happy birthday.  Father in law shoots him dead.

Is Florida particularly whacky?

Plans

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Ok, but There is Better!

 

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View of The Yellowstone River from Yellowstone RV Park

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Today we do not have any plans per se.  We’ll wing it.  See what’s out there and go where our hearts take us.  We stayed at Yellowstone RV Park last night.  it’s ok.  Rocky Mountain RV Park was full yesterday.  I called this morning and have a site reserved for tonight and tomorrow.  It’ll be good to have electricity with snow on the way.  There’s a scarcity of motorhome supply shops here.  We need some non-toxic antifreeze “just in case”.  Perhaps a general store or market will carry some.

We’ll spend the day at Mammoth walking the hot springs, the visitors center, and enjoying the resident elk.

Ellen spotted a camper using a unique method to protect their windshield wipers.  We use the same material over spots we’d bonk our heads inside.IMG_8383

Winterize your Windshield Wipers

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Ellen and Curtis off to View a Site

Rocky Mountain RV Park

Rocky Mountain RV Park sits on a bluff above the Yellowstone River overlooking Gardiner.  We drove there yesterday, saw a FULL sign, and turned away.  This morning at 10:01 I called. “Oh we have many sites open, come on up!” a happy young woman answered.   We stopped at the local grocery for milk and Kleenex.  They carried RV antifreeze.  SCORE!  Not that I want to winterize, but now I can if I have to.

I parked at the RV Park and Ellen headed to the office as an electric car pulled up.  Curtis hopped out and greeted us.  He’s a bundle of energy.  The weather has driven most of their long term renters off.  They have lots of sites.  He offered to show Ellen the sites and off they sped in the golf cart.  Moments later they returned.  Ellen was happy with the site.  An added bonus, elk roam the campground.  One massive bull was sitting on the far side of the camp.  We signed up for two nights, hoping to be in place as the rains/snow this evening and tomorrow subside.  I really enjoyed talking with Curtis.  He said some locals think they’re crazy.  They’re one of the first to open and one of the last to close every year.  Sometimes they have burst pipes, but that’s the price of taking risks.  They plan to turn the water off Monday.  The truly cold weather arrives Wednesday (so say the meteorologists).

 

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Mammoth

There were zero cars going into the park as we pulled up to the kiosk.  Kia opened the window, “Hi, how are you guys?” Kia is an early 30’s ranger who really enjoys her work.  With no cars behind us, The three of us chatted a bit about the park, Yosemite, the weather, and wolf sightings.  “I hope to see you guys again!’ “Oh you will!”  Parking in Mammoth was stress free.  There were many open spots for an RV.  The visitors center was just as I remembered it. The photo of the mountain of Bison skulls stood where I remembered.  That photo had and has a profound effect on me.

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Bison Skulls to be Ground Up for Fertilizer!

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Lamar Valley is further from Mammoth than I remembered.  “If you want to see wolves, go to the valley at first light.”  How many are in the pack?  “Maybe about ten”  Getting to Lamar Valley at first light will take getting up very very early for us.  We tried doing just that last year, but a good snowfall over the passes turned us back and out of the park. 

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We walked to Mammoth Hot Springs, stopped at the general store for a hot chocolate and hot pretzel.  At the cashier I said, “Just these two hand warmers.” We stopped in the Mammoth Dining Room, but figured we had better food in The Beast.  The Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel is open, has an interesting gift shop, and a lounge.  We didn’t find anything of interest in the gift shop.  The lounge’s bar was closed; I had no plans for a drink anyway.

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Driving back we saw two elk harems.  Ellen said “Stop” as I approached a turn-out near the exit kiosk.  The something she had seen was a group of prong-horned sheep, a harem.  Five females with a single male.  We saw more elk as we watched the sheep.  They are alternately called sheep or deer.  Their closest living relative are giraffes and okapi!  Last year getting diesel near Butte, we noticed photos of pronghorns on a wall.  Ellen remarked on it and the young gal at the counter said, “They’re really fast and they’re great eating.”  I didn’t mention the ones we had seen in Yellowstone then and I wouldn’t now.

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“Let’s go back to Rocky Mountain, have lunch, and walk Gardiner. We could have dinner later.”  We agreed we could dress warmer and be more comfortable.  We ate the last of the chili while watching a few elk graze on the fresh grass as the sun came out.

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The View of Gardiner from Site 45

Gardiner

Headed down the hill to Gardiner we met Curtis walking home.  “Hi, we forgot the name of the restaurant you recommended.”  “Are you walking?”  “Yes.” He mentioned three: Cowboy’s just across the bridge, Wonderland Café as the best in town that’s open, and some other I’ve forgotten.

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We walked downtown Gardiner, which is very small. Most restaurants are closed for the season.  Most inns have vacancies if they are open at all.  There were a few espresso shops open and Rosie’s for breakfast, all the outfitters and tour operators are closed, though one outfitter offered XC-Skiing tours.   It felt warmer than our walk to Mammoth Hot Springs earlier.  We remembered stopping in here and grabbing a bite there last year. We had fun reminiscing.  Yellowstone Wild was open.  C Thomas Hoff was at his desk just like last year.  His photographs pop off the page, just as they did last year.   One photo in particular, well two actually, but one well; Ellen and I discussed where it could go.  Over the fireplace?  But it would break up the wall.  It would look great there.  But I don’t think the colors would go well.  The blue and gray would be perfect.  But the blue isn’t the correct color and we’d have to put holes in the stone.  No we could drop the piece from the ceiling on transparent line.  How about in the stairway?   It was a losing proposition for me, but we were discussing color not price.  “It’s late in the season.  If you take it with you, I’ll give you 20% off.  Ellen liked that.

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We ate at Wonderland Café.  When we arrived the restaurant was nearly empty.  Ellen had butternut squash soup, some of my side salad (which was served in the coldest salad bowl ever), and some of my mac & cheese with pulled pork.  The pulled port was laced with maple syrup.  It was scrumptious.  By the time we left the restaurant was full with people waiting for seating.  Wonderland also has a bakery with some great looking scones on display.  Their huckleberry were sold out.  “Tomorrow” we said simultaneously. 

 

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Photograph on the Wall at Wonderland Café

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Diners at Wonderland Café

 

We stopped at Cowboy’s but didn’t bother to go in.  It has a distinctly old west look and feel.  It looks like a good place for a burger and a beer.  I wouldn’t expect much more.

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Cowboy’s & Red Cars?  It’s a Thing?

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Cowboys & Gazebos? It’s a Thing?

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Cold and Dressed for It

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We walked back over the bridge that’s under repair and down the street past the market before turning back. The scattered tour operators were closed.  We passed an elk youngling in one yard, a deer in another, and a skittish fawn who sped away.  Some houses had high wire around their yards and plants.  As twilight set in we walked back up the hill to Li’l Beast then looked for the laundry and showers.  We were back “home” at 7:43 when the first few rain drops fell. Twenty minutes there’s some serious rain falling.  Will we have snow overnight?

If it’s cold & stormy tomorrow, we’ll  hunker down for the day.  With no reservations driving us onward, we can stop where and when we like.

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Rocky Mountain RV Park

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A Great Gate and Li’l Beast in the Background

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It’s Too Cold for a River Run IMO

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Ever Feel This Way?