(24 days in)
We’ve had some jam-packed days since you last checked in with us, and we’re currently out in the Midwest in the small town of Buffalo, WY. In the last week we’ve travelled through the original Mormon city, the first National Park, the rodeo centre of the world and I shot a gun!
Going to Temple, but with a sprinkle of science
I was excited to see Salt Lake City. The photos of it look fantastic and I’ve always been fascinated by cities that are essentially in the middle of a desert (it helps that most of my dream houses are in the surrounding mountains). Admittedly after nearly 90 miles of flat, perfectly straight highway into the area I was mostly just looking for a bed to have a kip in. We got settled into the Downtown Rodeway Inn and looked online to see what was in the area – with only one full day in the city we didn’t have a huge amount of time to plan things, but after settling on a Cajun-inspired bar (The Bayou – with over 200 beers, guess what caught my eye) for dinner, we had a short walk, a lovely meal and then hit the hay.
First on our list for the next day was Salt Lake Temple, a sacred Mormon temple that sits as the centrepiece for a 10 acre square in the middle of Salt Lake City. There were plenty of tours and guides around the area to help us out but we mostly kept to ourselves, reading briefly on the history of the temple itself and it’s founder, Brigham Young, who laid the cornerstone of the building on April 6, 1853 (M: “April 6, 1853”? Seems like he’s already been in the US too long…). The temple itself took almost 40 years to be completed, and standing at its foot you can see why. Aside from a few nearby office blocks, it dominates the skyline with its impressive spires. After being in the background for at least 3 different wedding photos, we took a short walk to see the Capitol building and then rocked on back down the hill to find WiFi and a spot of lunch.
We had parked in an underground lot (M: Case in point.) underneath Clark Planetarium, so after our walk back we decided to pop our heads in and see what they had. What we found was a lot of children, unsurprisingly. Turns out that it was a weekend and the place was full of families having an educational trip out. This was sad news for us, purely as the Clark Planetarium has a lot of interactive displays and games that we, as children ourselves, were eager to get a hold of. We took in all we could see and then decided that we might as well take in the 3D Imax cinema they have there and watched a feature they have on Predators (mostly from the BBC and Planet Earth 2 – it was good to hear the British narration). When this was done we headed back, made use of the motel’s laundromat services and planned our drive for the next day.
Too many cooks spoil the eggs
A short stay in Idaho Falls and then we were in Yellowstone National Park. As mentioned earlier, this was the first area of North America that was protected by the National Park Service, signed into law by President Ulysses S. Grant in 1872. As our regular readers will remember, we recently stayed in Yosemite National Park where we discovered the number one rule for staying in these wonderful places is if you haven’t pre-booked, then turn up early. Luckily for me, in the days before Yellowstone, Megan had dedicated her time to refreshing the booking site and seeing if there were any cancellations in the campgrounds that we could jump on, and much to our delight, she managed to secure us a site for each night we were there.
In my naivety, I expected Yellowstone to be a lot like Yosemite, with cleaving falls and gorgeously sheer mountains. This turned out to be mostly incorrect. Yellowstone does have waterfalls and mountains, but also incredible plains, dense forests and an alien landscape of geyser formations.
Our first morning in the park saw an unwelcome alarm at 7am. In our attempt to beat the other tourists we wanted to get up early so we were in the parking lot (M: it’s a CAR PARK Pete) for Old Faithful before I’d had the daily cuppa (we would later realise this was a fantastic idea, as we had lunch watching the line (M: queue) for entry crawl its way into the area). For anyone who doesn’t know, Old Faithful is the most famous of the geyser formations in Yellowstone. It sits mostly by itself, whereas almost all the others are clumped together a few hundred yards away. It has its own lodge and visitor centre with a huge panoramic window for people to watch it erupt (though you can stand a lot closer as it is also surrounded by wooden decking and benches). It’s said to erupt every 90-120 minutes and the rangers post an estimate schedule in the visitor centre. We made the mistake of going past the geyser before making it to the schedule and – as anyone who plays the same numbers each week on the lottery can tell you – felt we couldn’t leave in case the time had come. Fortune smiled upon us yet again though and we were barely waiting for 15 minutes before Old Faithful showed us what the hype is all about (check out our Facebook album for these photos). (M: I find Old Faithful a bit of an odd one, as it’s not the biggest or the most frequent geyser eruption in Yellowstone and yet hundreds of people gather round every 90 minutes to see it spray hot water… shows what good PR can get you I guess.) We then had a walk around the rest of the nearby geyser formations, sniggered at some of the names and saw another quite spetacular eruption (Riverside Geyser, the most predictable geyser that erupts for a full 22 minutes over a river, surprisingly). Another piece of advice (I know, this could become a thing if i’m not careful) – geysers smell. They smell pretty bad, like rotten eggs (note the title) as they have a large amount of hydrogen sulfide (M: sulphide) and sulfur (M: sulphur). So prepare to smell a little afterwards AND, if you’re sleeping in a metal container like, say, a Ford Transit named Manone, you should really remember to put those clothes outside the van before bedtime.
Anyway, after we’d had our fill of geothermal features for the day we grabbed lunch from the van, hopped back inside and took some of the scenic routes back to Canyon Village, hoping to see a chunk of wildlife on the way. And, as much as we saw a lot more bison than I thought we ever could (and the associated photography traffic), we sadly again didn’t see any bears, wolves or moose. But no matter we thought, we have another full day and then a morning still here, we’re sure Yellowstone will succeed where Yosemite failed and we’ll see some more big mammals. Stopping only for
beergas and firewood, we turned in for the night.
Rebuffed by all the wildlife in the area, Megan had found what was called the ‘Yellowstone Serengeti’ where we would have the most chance to see the creatures that the park had to offer. So after another rude 7am alarm we had a cuppa and set off for this hotbed of wildlife activity. We drove around the sweeping roads and lakes for a few hours, taking in the morning mist, the beautiful landscape and the abundance of wildlife. Well, one type of wildlife – bison to be precise. We failed to see any other form of wild animal aside from a couple of elk (which are basically just deer, we have those in England). With disappointment in the air, we decided to pop over to another geothermal area of note, Mammoth Hot Springs. Again I’ll direct you to the Facebook page for the pictures of this stunning landscape – we felt as if we had stepped into an 80’s sci-fi set, surrounded by tiered hot springs and the all-too familiar smell of eggs that are slightly past their use-by date.
This IS my first rodeo
We weren’t eager to get out of the area so when it came to our final day in the park, we checked out of the campsite and headed up to the ‘Grand Canyon of Yellowstone’ for a last ditch attempt to see a bear. Stumbling upon the Lower Yellowstone Falls, we took the selfie opportunity, filled our mugs with tea and continued the search. Another failed attempt (Megan is starting to take this personally) saw us head out of the park and into the real Midwest.
Cody, Wyoming markets itself as the ‘Rodeo Centre of the World’. We were unfortunately only there for one night, as a stop before our next main locations, of Mount Rushmore, Minneapolis and Chicago. As we checked into our motel for the night we were helpfully bombarded with events going on in the city (M: “So, the gunfight starts outside Irma Hotel at 6…”). It was the most American 24 hours we’ve experienced so far as we purchased a ‘trifecta ticket’ that got us into an all-you-can-eat cowboy buffet, a live show of cowboy music AND the nightly rodeo they have in the town.
With a couple of beers and all-you-can-eat beef, the Triple ‘C’ Cowboys was a fantastic show, made up of three incredibly talented musicians from three pretty different walks of life but all with a passion for the acoustic stylings of typical cowboy music. Along with some jokes and a ‘dedication to our troops and first responders’, it was a tourist experience that we were happy to attend.
(M: Pete’s very kindly left out my social blunder here. As we were paying for our tickets at the front desk I was tapped on the shoulder by an older cowboy wishing to introduce himself. As I turned I realised that the hand with which he’d tapped me was a robotic prosthetic and, forgetting myself and the fact that this was somebody’s hand, instinctively started touching it in my fascination. My brain kicked in after (what I’m sure were an intensively awkward) ten seconds and I turned my inspection into a handshake and polite conversation, but I spent the remainder of the evening internally cringing everytime I remembered the exchange.)
The rodeo felt slightly different. With an opening prayer, the national anthem and a 10 minute long thanks to many different sponsors it felt more aggressively American and I felt slightly out of place (M: I felt extremely out of place, so this is pretty good for Pete). Once the events got under way I started to settle into it – except the morally grey ‘tie-down roping’ where a mounted cowboy chases a calf out into the arena, lasoos it around the neck and then drops it on it’s back before tying its legs (M: To be entirely honest, as much as you have to appreciate that the rodeo is obviously a huge part of the culture out here I find any sport which stresses out (and quite possibly hurts) animals solely for entertainment a bit more than ‘morally grey’, but that’s just my opionion of course. I spent the entire night cheering on the cows, probably much to Pete’s chagrin and the annoyance of the crowd around us). I can understand that as part of the lifestyle of a rancher that such an activity is necessary, but to do it as a sport seems pretty harsh, especially if the calf lands wrong (I should note that from our point of view, all calves were fine and walking/running after they were released, but it was still uncomfortable to watch).
Straight after the cowboy show I looked into something that had been mentioned a few times, the Cody Firearms Experience. This is essentially a shooting range, but with a lot of historic guns for you to choose from. For those who know me this is, of course, right up my alley (with my possibly unsettling obssession with arms and armour) (M: ‘possibly’?). So I booked it there and then for the next day. Upon arrival I was introduced to Mike, asked which weapon I would like to choose – a .45 calibre 1873 lever-action Winchester rifle for those that are interested, the ‘Gun that Won the West’ and made famous by names such as Annie Oakley and Buffalo Bill himself. This was an incredibly enjoyable experience for me and hopefully you can see that joy from my expression (as well as my pretty decent shooting) in the photos that Megan so helpfully was on hand for.
Sadly, that just about brings us up to date with our adventure. Currently sat in the quiet town of Buffalo, we’re taking it easy on our way further east. Next on the schedule is the Black Hills National Forest, where apparently there’s a huge biking event going on, and then Minneapolis and Chicago. As ever, if anyone has anything that we definitely must do in any of these places (or things we should avoid) please do get in touch and let us know.