After spending the full 14 day limit in Bridger-Teton National Forest exploring Grand Teton National Park, we were ready to continue north and decided it would be foolish to skip Yellowstone since the 27-mile John D Rockefeller Memorial Parkway literally connects the two parks.
We were planning to drive to Glacier National Park in northern Montana anyway so it was already on our way. That's the logic that led us to Carbella Recreation Area in southern Montana. Carbella is just 33 miles north of the North entrance of Yellowstone. It's a large open, rocky field with a boat launch and some vault toilets, decent Verizon signal and not much else.
We arrived on a Thursday and there were 3 other RVs of varying sizes with room for plenty more. Temperatures reached the 90s while we were there and we quickly learned we left all the green grass and wildflowers back in Wyoming. Now we were surrounded by hills covered in brown, crispy grass, dry sagebrush and small cacti. We were parked next to the Yellowstone River and each day we took Jane down to the water to cool off. By the second day, we started joining her. Alex is braver than I am and had no trouble swimming into the middle of the fast, cold river and floating down to the boat ramp. I waded up to my knees and stayed close to shore.
On Monday, we woke at 5am to visit the park. Three things were on our list-Mount Washburn, Grand Prismatic, and Old Faithful. To visit them all, we had to get up early because Yellowstone is huge and just driving between these landmarks would take a few hours.
Mount Washburn is a popular hike because the views from the top are outstanding and there's a fire lookout tower at the top. We started it from the Chittenden parking lot trailhead and hiked about a mile up before I pulled the plug. The high elevation hikes are grueling to me and each time we hike above 8000 feet, I end up calling it quits early.
After my Mount Washburn struggle, we drove over to Grand Prismatic Spring and got our first real taste of a busy tourist attraction in a national park. The parking lot was full so we parked along the road and walked down to the boardwalk that encircles Grand Prismatic.
The spring is the largest in the US, third largest in the world and is known for it bright rainbow ring of colors. It's truly unlike any natural feature I've ever seen and I'm so glad we visited but it is not exactly a magical experience. There are hundreds of other people shuffling along the hot boardwalk towards the giant spring. I'm usually the asshole that complains about the crowds while Alex shushes me and encourages me to be friendly but he was on my team with this one. We took our photos and hustled back to our truck.
We debated whether to continue on to Old Faithful or just call it a day but it seemed ridiculous to be at Yellowstone and not see the famous geyser. It seems like an American road trip tradition-something you just have to see if you're visiting national parks. We arrived at Old Faithful Visitor Center and a sign let us know that an eruption was due in about 40 minutes. We browsed the gift shop and walked the center while we waited. Then we went outside to the bleachers that line the sidewalk around Old Faithful and grabbed a couple of the very last seats available. Crowds lined up behind the bleachers and we all sat close to each other in the blazing sun, waiting. After some false starts and sputters, Old Faithful finally erupted to her full glory and we all marveled and snapped photos. then within seconds, the bleachers were empty and all of us tourists filed down the sidewalk toward the parking lots.
We drove the two hours back to our camp and spent the rest of the day swimming with Jane.
As we packed up to leave Carbella Recreation Area, we looked at the weather near Glacier National Park and realized the temps in the area were high 90s. In addition, wildfires were popping up all around Montana. We made a quick, last minute adjustment to our plans and decided to forgo Glacier altogether and instead, find a nice little spot in the path of totality so we could experience the Great American Solar Eclipse. We changed course and rolled off towards Idaho!