I quit a job I was increasingly beginning to despise, so all of a sudden my Memorial Day weekend freed up! With Grant out of town, I knew I didn’t want to waste away at the house alone, so I took a trip I’ve been meaning to for years now: visiting my cousin’s family in Bozeman, Montana…
Thursday, 26 May: But first, I had to get there. I drove east from Seattle through the Columbia River gorge (always stunning, I’m amazed how Washington can go from the Evergreen State to something the resembles the Grand Canyon in Arizona) to Spokane.
I was pleasantly surprised with what little I saw of Spokane: cute brick buildings and the raging river in the middle of town. I went to Madeline’s cafe where I had a delicious iced coffee and an even more delicious breakfast Rueben sandwich. Right across the street is a large bookstore, Auntie’s. I’ve now made it a tradition to buy a book from an independent bookstore when I travel as a souvenir, so there I picked up Book Lovers by Emily Henry. After that, I took a stroll through Riverfront Park and it was really impressive. I’m returning in July for a concert and might make a day out of it to check out more restaurants and bars.
Then I continued to Missoula, Montana getting to Shakespeare and Co. bookstore before they closed where I purchased Sex at Dawn, it was probably my favorite bookstore on the trip with a small and cozy by modern vibe and great selection. I met up with my friend Lisa who visited me in Brighton years ago for dinner and a walk around town. She showed me the river and on this especially warm day, there were surfers and kayakers out! We walked around town but unfortunately most everything was closed, but it was still lovely to have a look around. We went to her house for a chill evening of kitty cuddles and HBO Max.
Friday, 27 May: The next day, I went on to Bozeman. For the first few days, the two younger kids (four and seven) were at the house while the two older kids (eleven and fourteen) were away, so for that first evening we just caught up, ordered pizza, read about 3483975 books to the little girls, went on a walk and relaxed in the hot tub. Next door to the family house, my aunt and uncle built a guest house and they happened to be visiting when I was, so I stayed in their guest room for respite from the kiddos.
Saturday, 28 May: We (my aunt and uncle, cousin, the two little kids and myself) started our day off right by getting tasty treats at Wild Crumb Bakery, it all looked so delicious but I settled on an orange sticky bun. We walked around downtown to Country Bookshelf, where I got Why Fish Don’t Exist and Emma. We poked our heads into a few other galleries and stores before heading home for everyone’s naptime.
That night, I returned downtown alone to have dinner at Blackbird, a popular online suggestion as well as my cousin’s all-time favorite restaurant and I can see why, it was one of the best meals I’ve ever had. I asked the waiter what pasta he recommended so I got a special stamped pasta with fava beans, morels, basil pesto and smoked ricotta. The pesto came to life in my mouth and the crisp cider was a great compliment. I asked for some of their bread to sop of the remaining sauce and didn’t leave a single drop behind. Nice and full, I checked out a whisky bar Copper’s and watched a hockey game.
Sunday, 29 May: I went to Yellowstone National Park! I entered through the north in Gardiner (beautiful in its own rite), first stopping at Mammoth Hot Springs. I walked all along the terraces to get a taste of what the rest of my day would be like: hot springs and great views.
I made my way to Old Faithful making plenty of stops along the way at whatever looked beautiful or interesting. I especially liked Clearwater Springs, I’m actually glad I went towards the beginning of the season because even though there was snow (including it actively precipitating on be throughout the day), seeing the contrast of the snow and boiling water of the springs was especially impressive. Not to mention, the crowds were relatively small.
Of course, I saw plenty of bison. My first encounter I saw them crossing the street a few cars ahead and pulled over to take a picture once they completed their leisurely cross.
Let this be a warning: although this picture was taken from the road, I made a mistake by not returning to my car when they were this close. Bison don’t care about the footpaths or road and it doesn’t mean you’re safe if you get close to them while still on the footpath. It’s recommended to stay 25 yards away from bison at all times, although they move slow a lot of the time, they are unpredictable and can run up to 35MPH and weigh several tons. This means you also have to actively move away from them when they get close, even if they’re just grazing. Just the day after I visited, a woman was gored and tossed in the air by a bison when she got too close. These (and arguably no) animals are inherently dangerous but will be aggressive if they feel threatened, no close encounter or photo is worth your health and safety, please give all wild animals ample space according to park guidelines. Now back to the happy bits: I also saw a herd of bison resting in the grass and a few calves! So precious.
Then I arrived at Old Faithful about ten minutes before it erupted (happens about twenty times a day with accurate predictions within ten minutes, check the visitor center there for the next estimated eruption time), and my God was it stunning. The spectacle moved me to tears, it’s so amazing what nature can do. But the snow was starting to get to me so once the eruption was over, I made it back to my car.
At West Thumb, I saw lots of elk does just hanging out by the road and in the grass. I walked around the different colorful springs along the desolate-looking Yellowstone Lake before making my way back north.
The parking at Grand Prismatic was a nightmare, I happened to get lucky but I recommend this being one of the first areas you visit: the lot is small and fills up fast and traffic builds up fast with visitors trying for street parking. Regardless, it was pretty cool to see the spring from the ground, but it get the full view of the colorful spring I went to the Fairy Falls trailhead and walked the 0.8 miles up to the view point. Another tip: the viewpoint is small (about thirty feet wide with even less space unobstructed by trees) and there was a lot of people posted up with tripods, so please be mindful of other people waiting to take pictures. Get all the pictures you want (this is a once-in-a-lifetime experience!) but don’t faff around after.
I went out through West Yellowstone (seeing another herd of bison close to the road but remaining in my car this time) and drove back to Bozeman along the Gallatin River, a drive with which I will quickly become very familiar with…
Monday, 30 May: I had a half day rafting trip booked with Geyser Whitewater Adventures and while on my hour-long drive along the Gallatin, I got a call five minutes away from the shop saying my trip had been delayed. As a long rafter, my trip depended on another larger party attending and since they cancelled, they had to put me with a different group later in the day. I came back for the afternoon trip that was with three other 40-year-old(ish) ladies who were all lovely. Two of the shop employees wanted to go for a joyride (we put them in the front to absorb the worst of the splashes) and the guide made for seven people on this trip, plus the two safety kayakers. Donning layers of neoprene and safety gear, we started our trip.
I loved it! It was my first time doing rafting and it was easy to follow the guide’s directions which made for a good time. Of course I got wet, both from river water and the rain and hail (yes, hail) but at least the boat didn’t flip! Since it’s so early in the season the water was running fast (about 3,000 cubic feet per second!) and one of the kayakers said that was one of best half-day trips he’s seen, water-wise. I didn’t mind the rain since I was already wet but once the hail started, we ended our nine-mile trip a little short to take cover. A professional photographer took some pictures which the ladies and I split the cost of and it’s such a fun memory to have forever. I can’t recommend this company enough.
That afternoon, the two older kids returned from their trip and I took the fourteen-year-old Ginny to the craft store, it was awesome to spend special time with her, had a big family dinner and saw photos from Ginny’s New York and Washington, DC school trip over dessert.
Tuesday, 31 May: I drove all the way back to Seattle from Bozeman. It’s an easy drive with virtually no traffic and good weather conditions but it was still a good 11+ hours.
I’m so happy I could finally make this trip and do so much in such little time. Montana was beautiful and I’ll definitely have to return to Yellowstone to camp and show Grant around.
So proud of you! I believe that you are living the life you have always wanted!!! It takes lots of courage and faith to “explore” mountains, grazing wild animals and unknown locations without a “group” leading the way! When will you be in Tucson?
You are a fantastic reporter. Glad you had fun. Loved the pictures.