Yellowstone's Bechler Meadow
It’s a bit colder than I had anticipated -- 41 degrees at noon and below freezing at night. The forecast promises warmer days so we get our backcountry camping permit for Bechler Meadow. The ranger tells us to expect the marshes we will hike through to be soggy, up over our boots. Grizzlies and black bear both roam, but we are prepared!
With our packs on our backs, we walk along the Bechler River. The sun sparkles on the rushing water, which is so clear you can see the rocks and plants on the bottom.
We don’t see any other hikers, but a couple of people on horseback pass us by.
After about five miles, we enter an enormous meadow where golden grass gleams in every direction.
It is not as wet as we had expected. We cross a footbridge over the one large stream in our path.
At our campsite, we set up the kitchen and string our bags high to keep them away from the bears. Across the meadow a huge moose saunters towards the woods.
To the southeast, the Teton Mountains fill the horizon and we set our tent to get a full view.
In our sleeping bags by 9 pm, we hear animals barking, then a pack of wolves somewhere up in the canyon commences to howl. Wow! We toss and turn, shivering, much of the night as the temperatures nosedive. In the morning, our tent is covered in frost.
We welcome the morning sun, eager to warm ourselves up.
By noon we are sweating as we hike back to our van. Next stop: Montana.
Teton Valley, Idaho
Ashton Idaho, reached by driving past astonishing golden fields that ripple and fold in either direction as far as the eye can see. The stubble of wheat glisten in the afternoon sun, the view interrupted only by towering stacks of baled hay and an occasional farm or silo.
Overnight in Ashton we stayed at our first RV Park, and it was a fine experience.
Three other RVs had staked out the far corners of the park, leaving a dozen or more empty spots to choose from. It was quiet.
We ended the night watching Badlands, a 1973 film with Martin Sheen and Sissey Spacek playing young lovers on a cross country killing spree that ended in Montana. Sweet dreams.
The next morning, a steady cold rain was falling when we pulled out of Ashton. Ahead, more farms, then a sharp right led us east, back toward Wyoming. The pewter sky dropped lower and more rain pelted the windshield. We’re going way off the beaten track to Cave Falls, a National Forest Service campground on the Belcher River. From there, we’ll hike back into Yellowstone National Park.
Unsurprisingly, there is not a soul at the campsite. The river is a stone’s throw away from our van and it is majestic, pouring out from the wilderness at a fast pace, gurgling, almost menacing, as it rushes past.
As I observe the churning waters, I'm glad that we have decided not to try to ford any rivers on our hiking trip into Yellowstone.
Watch and listen to the river here.
My First Backpacking Experience
With our bear mace in hand, our bear-resistant food canister packed with freeze-dried meals, coffee and, yes, even a bit of half-and-half, we started to climb the canyon.
At age 60, I was embarking on my first overnight backpacking trip and I prayed I did not become a statistic, an over-enthusiastic but under-prepared hiker.
Thanks to the high altitude the previous day, this climb was bearable, though after four hours of climbing with the pack on my back, I was tired.
We didn’t see any grizzlies (yeah!!) but we did spot two moose, one with her calf, on the trailside. After sunset, the horned sheep reclaimed the trails from the humans.
With the 13,000-foot-high Grand Teton mountain directly above, we set up our tent and began preparations to maintain a bear-free campsite.
Cooking was done about 200 feet away from our campsite and after eating our delicious Thai curry and bean chili dinners, we tucked the dishes, the leftovers, and anything that might attract the bears, like sunscreen, back into the bear canister and hid it in the opposite direction.
As soon as the sun set, the temperature dropped and the stars began to emerge in the dark skies. Heavenly!
In the morning, we decided to take an hour-long hike up to Lake Solitude. The clear green/blue waters looked appealing but chilly, so we turned around to begin our five-hour descent to Jenny Lake.
My right boot began to hurt me on the way down and, as the temperatures hit 80 degrees, the sun made us sweat profusely as we slogged along. I used my hiking poles to take pressure off my feet. Worried about missing the last boat to the parking lot, we didn’t stop to eat, which added to our exhaustion.
All’s well that ends well, as the saying goes, and by sunset we were back on our hillside, watching the final rays illuminate the glorious peaks.
The Grandest Tetons
We’ve spent ten days overlooking the Grand Tetons, parked on a hillside in the National Forest twenty miles outside of Jackson, Wyoming. It’s a dry camping site – and free.
The view is amazing, gazing across to the craggy peaks rising straight up from the Snake River.
We had our first guest, our brother-in-law, Jerome, from Alaska who is experienced in backcountry survival. On a 10-mile hike into Cascade Canyon we pumped him for information on how to prepare for our first overnight backpacking experience. He willingly complied and slept outside in a tent after we shared a delicious meal inside the van.
The next day, we thought we’d take a relaxing hike on the top of Rendezvous Mountain. You take the tram to 10,500 feet elevation then, we thought, you can pad around on the top and get some spectacular views.
The truth was that we walked down for two hours through rubble-strewn hillsides and alpine glens and then had to turn around and hustle back up over 2,000 feet.
Not acclimated to the altitude, I huffed and puffed and we barely made it back for the last tram down.
We had our camping permit for the backpacking expedition the next day, so despite collapsing on the bed when we returned from Rendezvous, we set out in the next morning to the upper canyon.
Beautiful South Dakota
In three days, we’ve only managed to cross the state of South Dakota. Not fast, you might say, but out here the spaces are wide and the distances long. We’re heading to Moran, Wyoming, just outside the Grand Tetons.
We feel the effects of being on the move, looking for places to camp every day or getting ready to go again.
That said, we scored big time at our first boon-docking spot inside the Buffalo Gap Grasslands with an amazing view of the Badlands.
First we had to follow a track off-road that led us to a precipice where we parked.
Our view in the morning of the Badlands.
Cows grazed below.
The next day we were off to the Black Hills, our last stop in South Dakota.
Our First Day on the Road
Our first night on the road in our Leisure Travel Van and I’m exhausted. We left New York a week ago and then settled in with dear, tolerant relatives in Minnesota while we provisioned our vehicle. We had to buy dishes, pans, sheets and linens, plus a million little gadgets to make sure that nothing rocked and rolled as we traveled. And then read all those manuals…
Finally, we left Minneapolis Monday morning and headed west.
We only got 12 miles when the challenges rose up. Warning lights, safety checks and two hours later we were back on the road, headed through Minnesota to South Dakota.
Finally, we were on the road. Flat Minnesota, thousands of acres of corn and soybeans in every direction, with each variety marked by the seed companies that have developed them.
Sunset approaches. We’re hungry, grouchy and the lovely town of Arlington, South Dakota awaits with its grain silos and quiet pond where campers can pitch for the night.
An early morning walk through downtown Arlington, a center of grain storage and transportation.
Listen as Johnny Cash & Lynn Anderson tear it up.
Where we are today.