Leg 4: Drive to Cody/Yellowstone/Grand Tetons

Our last night in Glacier is warm – meaning I sleep in only two layers! We have a long drive, so we are up early to strike camp. There is a fine layer of dew on the tent and not wanting to pack it too wet we attack Teapot first and do some repacking of the car.

We backtrack most of the route from Billings for the first four hours, and then hit Montana 191 south. Snow-capped mountains ranges run the horizon to the West for our entire drive. The history of the northern great plains are on display too: In every small town we pull through there are abandon grain elevators nestled right up against the train tracks. I wonder how all the grain is loaded now, and then we pass a GIANT, modern grain processing facility. I guess it’s just cheaper to let the old buildings stand (and eventually fall).

Our RV park for Yellowstone and Grand Tetons is about 15 miles to the west of Cody, meaning the sunset streams in through the windshield making it hard to get good pictures. It’s amazing though, as we drive along a river flowing from the lakes of Yellowstone and through narrow tunnels that open up at Buffalo Bill Cody State Park. After setting up camp we decide to find a restaurant for dinner, and head back into Cody where we find the Millstone Brewery. The beer is decent – but because of what our waitress calls “kitchen problems” they can only serve appetizers, salads and pizzas. As we wait for our food, Murray points out that after being in a car for over eight hours, even when you’re sitting still you still feel like you’re moving. We decided to name the phenomenon Velocitizing.

Highlights of the Drive:

  • 500 miles
  • Mountains, mountains and more mountains
  • Millstone Brewery can only serve salads and pizza

A little backstory here: When Murr and I originally started discussing this trip, it was only one week out to Mt Rushmore and back, with a weekend in Sioux Falls. But every time we looked at the map, we found ourselves saying, “Look how close we are to ….” And then we added Glacier, Yellowstone, Grand Tetons and Badlands. And with them almost another two weeks! The issue wasn’t the extra time, but given we waited almost a whole week after making our Sioux Falls and Mt Rushmore reservations, we struggled to find three nights near Yellowstone and Grand Tetons, meaning we only have one full day for each park. Not the best scenario, but we make it work.

Highlights of Yellowstone and Grand Tetons

  • Yellowstone is a packed 13 hours of ohs and ahs
  • 117 miles, broken up by Old Faithful, Prismatic Pools and Mammoth Hot Springs
  • There’s no rush hour, but there are Bison Jams
  • Grand Tetons is a 3 hour drive each way – but the vistas are amazing

And making it work means we spend 13 hours in-and-out of the car at Yellowstone to get pictures at West Thumb Springs, Old Faithful, Mammoth Hot Springs and the Canyon & Falls of Yellowstone. It’s a hot day too – with the temperature over 90 degrees at 4:30 PM when we hit Mammoth Hot Springs. Our final stop in Yellowstone is the Canyon and Falls and at 7 PM we are starting our 90-plus minute drive back to Cody when we hit… a Bison Hour! Traffic comes to a complete halt for a herd of Bison moseying across the road. After about 20 minutes of photos and just waiting for them to clear the road, we realize we won’t be back in Cody before the Millstone Brewery closes. So we find another restaurant just outside Yellowstone, and as we are seated the waitresses says they are out of lettuce and can’t make salads for dinner. Really – what is it with the food supply to Wyoming in early June?

After such a long day in Yellowstone, we get a late start for our trek to the Grand Tetons. The route takes us back through Yellowstone, but this time we don’t have to stop every 10 – 17 minutes for a photo op! Still, it’s a three-plus hour drive to Colter Bay, where we get our NP Passport stamps! We get to Signal Mountain around 2:30 pm, and wind our way up to the top where we get awesome views of the eastern valley and mountain ranges of the Grand Tetons. A storm is brewing in the distance, with rain falling into the valley and wind coming up the mountain. We are back into Cody for dinner around 7 PM, in time to get a quick meal at Millstone (which is still only serving salads and pizza) and Murr and I to buy some really great Navajo-style throws in downtown Cody. We have another long drive to the Badlands tomorrow, so we are back to camp before 9 PM and I’m asleep before my head hits my pillow.

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