Category: Travel

Coeur D’Alene & Wallace, Idaho

[Part one, two, three, four, five, six]

The end of our trip came quickly. Just like all trips do. The beginning feels like a slow and steady pace. The middle starts to dominate, and before long you’re packing your bag to head home. It sneaks up on you. I spent a lot of time wishing we could have done more, but there isn’t anything too relaxing about running yourself into the ground trying to see anything and everything.

We stayed in an Airbnb while in Coeur D’Alene. It was another detached unit from the main house. They converted their garage into an apartment. It was incredibly clean and cozy. The location was walkable to the lake or downtown, and they even had bikes you could borrow [not that we did].

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Coeur D’Alene was a destination on our tour, sure, but it also served as the last stop before the 6+ hour drive home. The city is known for its lake, mostly, so we spent a lot of time walking down by the lake or through town and back at the apartment reflecting on all that we had seen throughout the past few weeks. It’s a lot to digest, and if you don’t write it down in some fashion, you will forget. It’s inevitable.

Since most of this part of the trip was relaxing and redundant, I’ll spare you the mundane details. Highlights included: eating pork tacos and garlic fries and drinking local beer at Crafted Tap House, starting the day with coffee and scones at Calypso Coffee, finally washing the car off from all the road grime, eating our weight in sushi at Syringa Japanese Cafe, and watching the Champions League Final at Capone’s Pub & Grill.

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An extremely memorable part of the trip was the time we spent in Wallace, Idaho, a silver-mining town. It’s a small little piece of history. It’s mostly known for being where Dante’s Peak was filmed, but I think you should go there to grab a beer from Wallace Brewing Company and to take a tour of the Oasis Bordello Museum. The bordello was active up until 1988 when the madam and the ladies of the establishment left town because the FBI was coming to visit. Nearly everything was exactly as it was since they left in such a hurry. It’s an amazing piece of history, even if it is a bit seedy.

The heat affects Coeur D’Alene in the summer something fierce, despite being on the lake. We didn’t end up in the water at all, but I wanted to.

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It’s a different sort of ending to a trip to come home from a long drive in your car versus a really long flight. The car turned into a moving closet with all the crap I felt like we packed around. We felt infinitely lazier than when we’re out of the country because of the car, too. The number of miles spent on foot dwindles considerably when you have a car at your disposal. The sites are generally more spread out out here anyway.

The takeaways from this trip were: 1) America is beautiful, 2) I’m thankful for national parks, 3) people at national parks can be generally stupid when they treat it like Disneyland, 4) there is good food everywhere5) I could live in Montana [or Jackson, Wyoming, once I with the lottery], and 6) saying yes to pretty much everything is usually a good idea. How else are you going to see the world’s largest potato chip and tour a bordello museum?

Missoula, Whitefish, and Glacier National Park

[Part one, two, three, four, five]

The drive from Bozeman to Missoula was rather uneventful. We opted to take the northern route so we’d drive through Helena, but now my only memory from there was the sandwich we had at Staggering Ox that bordered on dreadful. What does one expect from a sandwich where the bread looks like a can?

The highlights from Missoula were rather limited as the weather swung from grossly hot to a deluge of rain and hail the size of marbles. We had it on good authority from a bartender at Flathead Lake Brewing that our time in Missoula would be best spent eating and drinking our way through the city. Otherwise the main attractions involved outdoor activities both of which were hampered by the above referenced weather. I’m a fair-weather outdoors[wo]man. I don’t deny it.

Missoula is in the midst of a bit of a growth and revitalization. Parts of the town that once embraced being questionable and sketchy were now being turned into breweries, playhouses and period appropriate apartments. Our Airbnb was one such apartment. The apartments were originally built in the 1890s and our host has been restoring them. He’s been known to do it all over town. When we pulled up, the once dilapidated apartment complex nearly still looked as much, at least from the outside. Questioning looks were shared between Andrew and I as we were wondering just what we got ourselves into. Fears dissipated quickly as we ascended the stairs to the entire floor that was to be ours for the next few days. The apartment looked exactly like it would have back in the 1890s, only restored. One half of the floor contained the kitchen and the bedroom. The other half a living space, a bathroom, and another room that was still under construction. An additional apartment with a similar setup was occupied full-time downstairs.

Biga Pizza was hands-down the food related highlight of Missoula. We managed to squeak in to grab a pizza at their bar before they closed for the night. Their meatball verde pizza has a cilantro-jalapeno base that dreams are made of. It’s bright and refreshing with a subtle spice. I want jars of the stuff to pour on everything. We fell in love with the pizza and owner that we wanted to come back for more the next day, but they’re closed Sundays. We opted for Monday lunch before heading out on the road. After pizza, we went to Big Dipper Ice Cream. I hadn’t realized just how jaded I was by the Portland ice cream scene [read: lines and $$$]. My jaw dropped when I could get two gigantic scoops of house-made ice cream for less than $4. They cater to purists and crazy people alike. I had to get the two scoops so I could get their green tea and black licorice. Breakfast at Catalyst Cafe was a recommendation by the owner/chef at Biga Pizza. The cafe started out as a coffee cart. It’s now a highly popular breakfast destination. We were recommended the Mexican inspired breakfast plates, which is exactly what we got. HEAPING portions of chilaquiles and huevos rancheros are an understatement, but the quality wasn’t sacrificed. It was a perfect combination.

Bernice’s Bakery and sandwiches from Biga Pizza]. Columbia Falls was the next destination so we could head into Glacier National Park for a few days. Unfortunately the Going-to-the-Sun road was still mostly closed for the year, so we wouldn’t get to experience nearly enough of it to form an opinion. Columbia Falls is a tiny little town, so if you’re not in Glacier, you spend a lot more of your time in Whitefish. Whitefish is the next town over and a resort town on a much smaller scale in comparison to Jackson. The Airbnb we stayed in was a newly constructed addition to the owner’s shop on their property. It was really nice.

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We spent a lot of our first day in Glacier driving around to get a lay of the land. Since the road was blocked only 15 miles in, and there is only that one road, access was pretty limited unless you’re ready to go on some big hikes. The Avalanche Lake hike was pretty easy and the views from the lake up to the surrounding mountains were stunning. We didn’t get anywhere near a glacier, though. It was a fairly crowded hike since it was one of the only “main areas” to go. We had to circle for awhile to even find a parking spot.

Whitefish has a great brewery [Great Northern Brewing!] that serves a solid beers and a plate of nachos as a post-hike feast. Their specialty beers, Guy on a Buffalo [coffee porter] and Big Mountain Tea Pale Ale [made with Earl Grey], were total standouts. The bartender suggested we hit up the farmers market to get a fish sandwich from The Cuisine Machine, a caterer with a food cart. They were out of their famous Walleye sandwich, but if the cod was any indication, it was incredible. Light flakey white fish is a weakness, and I’m particularly picky if it’s lightly breaded. Easily one of the best fish sandwiches of my life. It was there that the owner/chef told us to hit up Polebridge, a small town [village?] on the edge of Glacier to eat at the saloon. A lady at the bakery stand told us the same thing. Their original bakery was in the mercantile out there. We knew what the next day in Glacier would hold.

Polebridge is a trip. We were told that normally there is about 150 or so people that live in Polebridge full time [often in their cars!] and then it jumps to 300 when the summer season hits and there is more work available. There is literally just the one dirt road, the saloon, and the mercantile. The front of the mercantile is the bakery case where you can get various flavors of home baked cookies, that look just like ones made at home. The fruit danishes were sold at a premium because they took so many hours to make. Dinner at the saloon was another home cooked affair. I hadn’t had, but severely craved, a simple steak the whole time we had been on the road trip, so to get a steak salad and a beer and sit outside on picnic tables on the lawn was heavenly. The server, a well-traveled older gentleman, stood outside and chatted with us about Polebridge, his world travels, and why Montana is such a draw to very well educated, well traveled people. It was a really great time. As usual, people get a bit bummed when they hear you’re spending such a short time in their town [we were leaving tomorrow]. I love that kind of pride.

The following morning we’d eat at Farmhouse [a tender fried green tomato benedict on a biscuit!] on our way to Coeur D’Alene, Idaho — the final stop on our road trip.

Bozeman and Lewis & Clark Caverns

[Part one, two, three and four]

We drove straight through from Livingston to Bozeman, the first of two college towns on our way through Montana. It’s not a long drive by any means, but equally as beautiful all of Montana had been so far. Big Sky country took my breath away. We were entering the Airbnb phase of the trip. The house we stayed in, a little bungalow made cozy with natural materials and within walking distance of downtown, was still being cleaned when we arrived. Paul’s mom was inside cleaning up from the prior people who stayed, but she let us stay and chat with her while finished. That is one of the highlights of the whole Airbnb style of traveling — meeting locals without even trying. We would have never have met this woman otherwise. We immediately got a taste of what Bozeman was about and what it had to offer. Sure it’s only one person’s take, but it’s not a hotel’s take. That can be huge in exposing you to something a little off the beaten path. She told us about her son [a famous musician!], gave us a couple of his CDs, and told us a lot about Bozeman and the surrounding area. She was a great introduction to the next few days.

The downtown core area is essentially a long strip of shops and restaurants. The college is on the other side of town nestled in what looks like suburbia. If it weren’t for the mountains in the background, I could have been anywhere once you got out of the main area.

The highlights of Bozeman were two-fold for me — the food and the museums. Again with the food. There is an abundance of locally sourced food in the area, plus the added bonus of the spectrum of income levels. College kids and actors/musicians. We found great eats nearly everywhere. Stand outs included Roost for their fried chicken that was light and full of flavor, Granny’s Gourmet Donuts for the all the donuts coffee cream filled donut, Bagelworks for a deliciously cheap ham and cheese bagel sandwich, and Blackbird for their beautiful space and wood-fired pizza. Bagelworks puts their deli sliced ham on the griddle. That speaks to me in a way that I can’t explain. It crisps up the edges just so. Blackbird had a seasonal burrata special with a pile of fresh rhubarb compote. Rhubarb! These are the reasons why we didn’t backtrack into Livingston. Too much good food to eat everywhere.

The two museums we went to, the American Computer Museum and Museum of the Rockies, were some of the best ones I’ve been to [next to the Idaho Potato Museum of course]. The American Computer Museum had not only the history of American computers, but of the human brain, the space program, and electronics/robotics in general. It’s in the most nondescript building, but the collection of items is astounding. Many of the modern day geniuses that were responsible or used many of the items in the building had been by in some fashion so there were plenty of photos and signed items for authenticity. They had 2,200 year old computers, original Apple 1s, original NASA hardware, and brains! There was free admission, and it was a self led tour that ended in a video. It was really neat. Consider me geeked out. The Museum of the Rockies has a set of regular exhibits, a rotating one, and a planetarium. The one that stood out the most for me was one of their regular exhibits, the Siebel Dinosaur Complex. They work with the Montana State University and have one of the largest displays of dinosaur bones with the help of Dr. Jack Horner of Jurassic Park fame. I haven’t seen such complete skeletons in person before. It was incredible, and several hours were spent reading every last detail. The rotating exhibit was one about chocolate, which sounded [and smelled!] good in theory, but by the end of it all I craved was chocolate because of the smell and there wasn’t any to be had. There was also a living history farm on site. They moved a regional house to the museum’s grounds and set everything up to period. The ladies running the exhibit were part of the history and they let us wander around despite the museum closing soon.

We made a day trip to a couple of the natural and historic areas surrounding Bozeman. It’s not all eating and drinking, I swear. First up was Lewis and Clark Caverns. There, you hike up a short hill to the mouth of a cave. A park ranger leads you into the cave and all the way to the bottom. The whole thing is about two miles, but the elevation you cover is pretty stunning. It had been really sunny and warm that day, so to step inside the cool, darkness of the cave was a welcome change. As someone who hasn’t really climbed around in caves except for once when she was a lot younger and doesn’t remember it, I was also completely geeked out about this. A common theme. We reached a point early on where the park ranger tells you that if you’re afraid of dark, cramped spaces that you better speak now because once we went farther, the only way out was to keep going. You see we were about to approach a slide! You seriously sat onto your butt and slid. It wasn’t nearly as long as I was hoping it’d be, but still fun. I’m glad I wore workout leggings to make sliding extra fun. Several other places involved nearly crawling or at least ducking so you didn’t bash your head. Seeing the work of millions of years before your eyes is really stunning. The stalactites and stalagmites reminded me something out of The Labyrinth or The Goonies. Like I said, I was geeking out. The whole thing is nearly idiot proof, meaning lots of light, handrails, and carved out stairs, but it didn’t take away from the fact we were IN A CAVE! My kind of spelunking. At one point, near the end, we reached a point where the guide could safely turn off the lights so we could see just what it was like when people were in here during the torch days and they blew out. Pitch black has a whole new meaning.

From there we took the scenic route to Virginia City, a town founded back in the mid 1800s. The entire town is on the National Historic Register. It ultimately became a ghost town that is now restored as an open-air museum. Nearly every other building is as it was the late 1800s. Others are inhabited by the town’s 200-300 inhabitants or modernized. It was my first experience with a ghost town, and definitely of an open-air museum. We took our time wandering the main street, popping into the restored buildings and looking at the displays, and ultimately stopping at the little saloon for a beer to cool off from the consistent nagging of the heat. The drive back was gorgeous. There were many pullouts for views of the rolling mountains and foothills in the area. At one point we stopped off and just sat outside and enjoyed the view as the sun started dipping into the horizon. We headed back to Bozeman in time to walk to Blackbird for dinner.

The rest of the time was spent sampling beer and coffee and driving/walking around the city. We were chastised by a grocery store worker for traveling “all that way” just to pick up beer and hang out in our Airbnb. We stayed a total of two nights in Bozeman before heading over to Missoula to experience what their other college town had to offer.

North Yellowstone and Livingston, MT

[Part one and two and three]

I was sad to bid Jackson and the grandma-chic hotel farewell. I really liked the town and the surrounding area. When I got back home someone told me that that one of the ski lifts will take you to the top of one of the runs in the off season to get a great view. I had no idea! I didn’t see that advertised anywhere and no one mentioned it when we were chatting people up in town. I’d like to believe they didn’t tell me because it wasn’t worth it.

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We had a date with Livingston, Montana later in the day, but had plenty of time to get through the northern part of Yellowstone. Mammoth Hot Springs is up there and since Yellowstone does the geothermal thing better than anyone, I was probably as pumped to see this as I was Old Faithful. Most of that drive was much prettier than the southern part. Tower Fall was particularly beautiful. It’s no Multnomah Falls, but it was a lot less touristy. At one point we were navigating some steep switchback-esque roads and had to come to a complete stop to let a bison pass. He was just moseying along as if cars weren’t even there. He passed by me at the steering wheel, his head at my height, but body towering over the car. It was intimidating and I totally locked the door. I wanted to do nothing more than stare, but with all of the morons getting gored by bison bison in the news lately, I didn’t want to join that club.

Mammoth Hot Springs is known for their limestone terraces. Talk about stunning. They don’t even look real or make any sense to my feeble brain. Perfectly chiseled blocks of limestone made into natural terraces can be found all over. Bacteria and algae contribute the colors. They change often, and were particularly dry and less colorful when we were there. A lot of grey and white, but stunning none-the-less. There is a walking tour you can take to see all of them. Fort Yellowstone, built in 1886, is nearby to get in a little history coupled with your nature. If you hadn’t guessed by now with all of this geothermal activity, there is a heavy sulfur odor when you’re walking along the wooden walkways. It’s not for the weary. I actually like the smell a lot, but there are plenty of people who don’t.

We left the area through the Roosevelt Arch and crossed over into Montana with little fanfare. It wasn’t until we got out of the border town that I started to see what the whole “big sky” thing was all about. Montana has a lot of it. The sky. It’s everywhere. Big wide open spaces surround you. I haven’t felt that insignificant and surrounded by such untouched beauty in a long, long time. Speed limits are kind of a joke — 80mph. Who needs to drive that fast when there is so much beauty to see? It’s really not that surprising that Montana has one of the the highest number of car fatalities per mile. People drive fast. We were passed. A lot. Couple that with curvy roads and wildlife crossings and there were a lot of little white crosses littering the sides of the roads. Sometimes it was distracting. Other times you’d just get so lost in the landscape that they would disappear.

Livingston had been the inspiration for the trip, thanks to Anthony Bourdain. It’s a town of about 7,000 and 80% of the buildings are on the national register of historic places. If you haven’t gathered, it’s small and has a lot of history. We stayed at The Murray Hotel [where Bourdain did, of course], which is a charming as hell old Western hotel that’s preserved in all the right ways. The elevator has to be operated by the front desk staff, and the lobby is full of western kitsch. The rooms were updated with modern amenities while maintaining the charm that comes from a historical building like that. Celebrities roll through a lot. We didn’t see any, of course, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen.

The town houses a large artist/writer/actor community so there are a lot of galleries, shows, and movies filmed in the area. Since a lot of celebrities come through, the food scene isn’t a slouch. We ate and drank really well during the 24 hours or so we were there. The beer at Katabatic Brewing was some of the best I’ve ever had. Sorry Oregon beer! The brewery had only been open nine months and can barely keep up with the demand of the town. If they didn’t constantly keep brewing, they would run out of beer in two weeks. As such, they aren’t in any position to start exporting out of Livingston, which is so unfortunate. We also became acquainted with Montana’s brewery laws. They’re interesting — the gist being you can only have three pints per brewery and they have to close at 8pm. The restaurant/bar industries are feeling threatened by the brewery concept. I imagine it’ll eventually change just like most other places. But really, I don’t really need to be drinking more than three pints anyway. Places we ate included Fiesta En Jalisco for huge plates of solid Mexican food and Gil’s Goods in the morning for great coffee and farm to table breakfasts [cheese grits!]. We didn’t get a chance to check out the infamous 2nd Street Bistro for some fine dining because they were closed the one night we were there, but we considered driving back.

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Another highlight in Livingston was the Livingston Depot Center for all things railroad history. The old train depot has been turned into a museum. There is a ton of information on the walls and in display cases for even the most uneducated of train n00bs. What really made the whole experience though was the guy manning the front desk when we were there. He is a true train aficionado and he had so much great insight and personal experience with trains that he really brought the museum to life. It was nearly a guided tour. We spent a lot of time in there reading over every last detail. The upstairs area did have a small exhibit dedicated to movies shot in the area, but that wasn’t nearly as cool as all of the train information. Trains were such a huge part of the area, so to brush up on my history was welcome.

We rounded out the little time left in Livingston with a trip to Sacajawea Park to walk along the river before heading back onto the highway towards Bozeman.

Jackson, WY, Grand Teton, and Yellowstone

[Part one and two.]

Driving to Jackson, Wyoming is beautiful. That really shouldn’t be surprising. When we crested the top of the Teton Pass and started coming down into Jackson, we had to pull over and stop. The view was too impressive. The sky too blue. The mountains too majestic. Purple mountain majesties actually made sense for once. There was a bit of snow in pockets on the ground or on the mountains, but they weren’t kidding about winter being over early here. It melted several weeks ahead of normal, which was fine with me and my travel schedule [thanks global warming!].

Everyone refers to Jackson the city [town?] as Jackson Hole, but really Jackson Hole is the valley you enter when you come out of Teton Pass. It was confusing the hell out of me for the longest time. Thanks for clearing that up Google. Jackson is bustling. Even in May. It’s a ski resort town, but it’s also the home base for a lot of people heading out to Grand Teton and Yellowstone. There are a ton of shops and restaurants, much of it very walkable from any number of hotels in the little downtown area. Some aspects of it reflected the ski resort prices [namely food/drink], but since it was May and not the peak of summer or winter, prices for rooms weren’t too bad. We stayed at the Parkway Inn for the whole stay. We were bumped to their suite for no reason what so ever. It was in a little outbuilding that had a room on the bottom and then the suite up at the top of the stairs. If I could describe the room, it was definitely Grandma Chic. The woods were a dark oak. The floor was a burgundy velvet. The drapes and other linens were heavy. The wallpaper was floral. The ceiling boasted those tin ceiling panels. The main living area was bigger than most hotel rooms, but also had a full bed. If you sat on the vintage couch with all of the other doors shut, it looked like either my grandma’s house or the scene in a horror movie. There was a bedroom off to one side with a most uncomfortable king size bed [seriously, we slept on the full]. The highlight of the space was the split-level bathroom. The foyer of the bathroom was carpeted in more velvet and had a long dual sink vanity. You ascended a few awkwardly sized stairs up some hexagonal tile [trendy!] to the bath tub, toilet separated by a half wall, and a stand up shower that had a frilly cloth curtain with a valance. It was awesome and super weird all at the same time. I never got comfortable with the stairs. I was convinced I’d fall at least once, but didn’t.

The rest of that first day/night in Jackson was spent wandering the downtown area [archways made of elk horns! practicing for the gun battle reenactment for Memorial Day!] and eating one of the best burgers of my life at MacPhails Burgers. Again, we learned that a dead dining room did not compromise quality of food. The food is all locally sourced or made on site. They serve 1/3lb and 1/2lb burgers in both certified Angus and buffalo. The price isn’t of the ordinary burger cost, but you’re getting some of the highest quality meat I’ve ever had the pleasure of tasting. The buns are made especially for the restaurant and made every single day. They were perfection in a bun. Integrity but still maintaining it’s pillowy texture and soaking up the juice from the meat without going soggy. Serious perfection. Fries are cut and fried to order — both regular and sweet potato. You can get a mix of both, too. Be still my heart. While a lover of sweet potatoes, I don’t usually order the fries because they end up tasting too fake. Not here. Sweet potatoes like they should be, and not a freakish color. They blended in with the regular potatoes that it was almost hard to tell them apart. They’re piled high, too. I don’t know how anyone could eat a 1/2lb burger + fries. My 1/3lb was topped with mushrooms and swiss and I struggled. They also serve other things like cheesesteaks, hot dogs, and chicken sandwiches [all of the same high quality], but I gotta get a burger at a place with burger in their name. The family that owns the place runs it and we got to meet nearly everyone. We thought we’d come back to eat there at least one other time because they were so dang good, but it didn’t happen.

The next day was devoted to Grand Teton, despite the rain. It was the closer of the two parks. You drive through it to get to Yellowstone. We stopped at Pearl Street Bagels for lox and one of their ready-to-go bacon, egg, and cheese bagels. The coffee was forgettable. It felt like everyone else had the same idea as the line formed nearly to the door and stayed a steady stream the whole time we chowed down.

The cost of $25/car gets you into the park as well as Yellowstone for seven days. A steal! We would spend about four total and need the pass to get all the way through Yellowstone and out the north entrance to Montana. Grand Teton is gorgeous. The mountains are imposing and beautiful. They jut up out of nowhere without the usual foothills leading up to them. There is a lake in front of a fair amount, adding to their dramatic projection into the sky. Reflections off the water and moody clouds played supporting roles every time we drove through the park. On the first day, we made our way on a 7 mile roundtrip hike to Taggart Lake. It was our first so we had our bear spray and layers ready. Within 20 minutes it started raining. We contemplated heading back to the car being the fair-weather outdoorsmen than we are. Once you’re wet, you’re wet, so we carried on. I became increasingly aware to how alone we were. Knowing there are bears everywhere really heightens your awareness and adrenaline. My bear spray wasn’t handy unless it was in my hand. Fitting. We rounded every corner trying to be noisy [yelling “Heeeeeeeey bear” and clapping wildly], but the rain kept falling drowning us out. We befriended the only other couple on the trail, Emilio and Maria, a pair from Madrid who were living in Toronto. Andrew kept them talking while I led the group around the blind corners and through the gigantic puddle that was once our trail. The only reason they visited was because of Yogi Bear cartoons playing in Spain when they were kids. Thanks, Hanna-Barbara.

Arriving at Taggart Lake was mostly disappointing by that point since I was freezing, numb, and the lake was covered in a misty fog making it hardly a vista. We stopped for one obligatory group photo before continuing on the trip. I am so incredibly thankful we didn’t come across a bear. By the midway point of our trip, my basic hand motor skills had generally disappeared so I really don’t think my bear spray would have been any use short of throwing it at a bear. The rain never let up the the rest of the trip. As we got back to the car, we bid our new friends adieu and sat in the car with the heater on full blast to try and warm up. It was a long, painful process. It didn’t help to have a sandwich from Creekside Deli smelling delicious in its Italian sub glory and not actually be able to eat it. Getting the taped wrap off is one thing. Getting the sandwich to your mouth without biting a finger is another. We hadn’t brought spare clothes in the car, so we spent the rest of the afternoon driving around the park trying to dry off. We drove around Jenny Lake and almost ran over a baby bear. A BABY FREAKING BEAR. I’ll just let that sink in for a minute.  It bolted in front of us, we slammed on the brakes, and it climbed a tree next to my passenger window. I stared at for a few seconds before we got out of there. Where there is baby bear, there is mama bear. The closest we got to camping was a nap in the car at Leeks Marina, which would become a frequent stop on our trips to/from the parks. You park on the lake and stare awe-struck at those Tetons staring back at you.

That night Andrew witnessed his first rodeo. The Jackson Hole Rodeo kicked off Memorial weekend for its 2015 season so we were able to partake. It was every bit of the barrel racing, bucking broncos, and bedazzled jeans that you expected it to be. Calf roping was not this group’s strong suit. Because most nights kept us out doing things close to 10pm or later, a lot of the restaurant options would close up. We ate/drank beers at Snake River Brewing on more than one occasion.

The south entrance to Yellowstone is about an hour from Grand Teton. If you haven’t seen a map of it, it’s huge. It has a giant figure eight made of roads winding through it and connecting all of the entrances. Since it was off season, but the snow was melted, you’re subjected to road construction. The main goal of the day was to go see Old Faithful, which is normally 30 miles or so west of the south entrance. Normally wasn’t the case though since they had the bridge out for replacement, so we had a 80 mile detour. The park ranger at the entrance gate told us to expect a good 2 1/2 hours to get there. Ugh. There is something a bit oxymoronic about driving through preserved wilderness. It took that long in slow season. I can’t imagine what it would be like in the crazy summer. By the time we made it to the lodge at Old Faithful, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t cranky. I was hoping the geyser would be as cool as advertised.Of course we showed up as it just finished blowing, so we had to wait the approximate hour before the next showing. It gave us time to check out the visitor center that had a lot of hands-on exhibits. As someone who lives near the wilderness, I just wasn’t impressed with most of the driving through Yellowstone. Trees? We got ’em. What Grand Teton has in raw beauty, Yellowstone has in geologic wonder. The geothermal parts were awesome. It’s hard to fathom the magma so close to the surface. Old Faithful was as faithful as ever and did its thing within a few minutes of the estimate. It was rather impressive to see water naturally shooting that high out of the ground. There are several other things to see in the area, like Dragon’s Mouth and a ton of mud pots. We also saw a lot of wildlife — another bear [this time a safe distance from the car], a moose, and a lot of bison along the roadside. It blows my mind how many people take their wild nature for granted. So many stories of animal attacks come out of the parks purely on human stupidity. This isn’t Disneyland folks. That night was an incredibly good pizza coupled with more local beers at Pinky G’s.

We spent the next day fully in Jackson. Since we’d been at the parks most of the previous days, we hadn’t seen very much of the town. We started the day off with coffee and homemade coffeecake at Jackson Hole Roasters, followed it up with spicy meat breakfast burritos at D.O.G – Down on Glen, and then got to walking. There are a lot of shops — MADEFjällräven, Valley Bookstore, Mountain Dandy, and more art galleries and tourist kitsch than you can shake a stick at. There was a shot of espresso had at Cowboy Coffee Company and a beer at the Million Dollar Cowboy Bar. Yes, there are saddles at the bar for seats. Yes, we sat at them. Had to. We had dinner at Local Restaurant & Bar, which was an absolute hit. It was recommended to us by the owner of Mountain Dandy, and it was one of the best meals of the trip. We befriended the bartender and proceeded to eat/drink our way through the menu while watching the NBA playoffs. Highlights included a buffalo tartare, a gigantic fall-off-the-bone pork shank, locally made charcuterie, and chocolate donut holes. The menu rotates often, so you’re probably not going to find much of that on the menu anymore, but I don’t doubt it’s all amazing. I’d gladly trade a few restaurants or ten to bring them to Portland.

That would be our last night in Jackson. The next day we’d head up to the north part of Yellowstone and then on into Montana.