Lee’s Gone and I Did Very Little

A couple of times a year as we travel Lee gets an opportunity to work a side gig and this time it was down in San Antonio. Sometimes it can be difficult to arrange it with existing employers, but in this case the owners of the Camera store were very understanding and worked out a schedule where his shifts were covered. It’s nice for both of us to get this kind of break, although usually we are someplace where I have family or friends around. This time it would be just Jack and I and I wasn’t quite sure what I would do with the time. I’m jumping ahead though, because right before Lee Left we took a drive out to Rainbow Point to see if we could see some moose.

There is a tendency for people to focus on Yellowstone itself, but the surrounding areas do provide opportunities for animal sightings. We even have a map which shows what kind of animals have been seen where and since a moose with antlers is at the top of my list we took a drive one evening.

Here’s the map I was working from wasn’t great but got us to the general area

Turns out there were tons of forest roads in this area and some beautiful views. We didn’t see any moose unfortunately but we did see a beautiful eagle.

There is also a pretty nice National Forest campground out on the point and at $28 for an electric site is a steal in this area. They are pretty wooded and remote but less than 10 minutes or so from the Yellowstone entrance. If you are ever looking for a cheap alternative for this area I would recommend it. Beautiful dock Day Use area.

The next day I took Lee to the Yellowstone Airport which is the smallest I personally have ever seen. So small that they actually drive peoples luggage out in a cart which again was a first for me. It was great for us though because it was a quick 10 minutes to drop Lee off and then Jack and I were on our own.

I spent a lot of time thinking about what I would do with the 10 days and I had a short list of activities and since I was already up I decided to check out the farmers market at Ennis. This is the best one I have been to in the area and I wanted to go back. Turns out this was a great choice because not only was the farmers market happening but also an arts and crafts festival and my absolute favorite a library book sale. It was a great start to the week and I cleaned up on books, some shorts from a wonderful local thrift store.

While I was out and about I learned that huckleberries were starting to come in and since I am a huge fan I decided to go look for some. I have to say this is not as easy as it sounds. First of all, huckleberry patches are closely guarded secrets and the general descriptions of where they might be were conflicting. Some websites said on southern facing slopes, others said in shade under trees, and others said in wide open sunny places. Even the pictures of the plants were different as the different varieties are different heights. The best piece of advice I saw was to drive down rarely traveled country roads and look so that’s what Jack and I did. We didn’t actually see any huckleberries but we did stumble across this really cool dam and waterfall.

My original plan was to go out a few more times and look for huckleberries but to be honest being on this remote roads with just me and Jack didn’t feel super safe. Cell coverage in the area can be iffy and ultimately I decided it just wasn’t worth the risk. Plus my work week was crazy intense and we got some bizarre rain/hail weather that didn’t encourage outside exploring. Mainly Jack and I just hunkered down for the week and I just relaxed. Its nice having the RV all to yourself sometimes and I watched lots of TV that Lee’s not that interested in. Lee was thinking of me though and I was shocked when on Friday a beautiful bouquet of flowers arrived. Lee doesn’t send flowers very often and this was a gorgeous bouquet. So very sweet.

After a week of slacking I did want to get out on Sunday when the weather finally turned nice again. There was a Mountain Man festival here in town (think renaissance festival but with mountain men) and I drove over to take a look. There were lots of characters at this small festival and more fur than I think I have ever seen in my life. I wandered around a bit and saw everything but ultimately didn’t buy anything but a bottle of water.

Overall it was a decent week but it was nice to see Lee and get things back to normal. The main thing I learned was I’m not so great about getting out and doing things by myself despite being in a gorgeous area. I like sharing the experiences with someone and I am glad I have Lee to share them with.

We very much appreciate your support of our blog

  • You can purchase the ebook telling the story of how we became full-time RVers.
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First Time on a Lectric Bike

No that is not a typo. Lectric is the brand name of a company that makes ebikes that seem designed for people like us. We first used an electric bike at Timothy Lake that was purchased by our employers, but since it was a standard 10 speed I never felt steady on it. Even Lee wiped out a couple of times riding it because when you engaged the electric the bike would jump. Since that experience we have talked several times about getting electric bikes but they are pretty pricey and I wasn’t sold on the fact I would like them enough to use them.

Fast forward to Yellowstone and my reading a post by some fellow RV Dreamers Les and Sue. I have followed their blog and taken their advice from the very beginning of our RV journey so when they raved about the Lectric bike I took that seriously. I also know they are all about getting value for their dollar and since these bikes are over $1K that mattered to me. Last thing I wanted was an expensive toy we would never use.

I reached out to them personally and asked for their opinion and based on that we decided to rent a couple and try them out. Bikes are a pretty personal thing and I was particularly nervous because for the last several months I have been having balance issues. Whether that is caused by high elevation or the extra 15 pounds I put on after quitting smoking I don’t know, but I haven’t been surefooted for awhile. The last thing I wanted to do was take those balance issues on a bike. Lee kept gently pushing me to try it though and after sharing my concerns we set out on a Saturday on one of the few bike trails in Yellowstone to give it a go.

I’ll be honest it took a little while to setup bikes because we wanted to take our cameras and needed to be sure they were safe. The bikes we rented were the standard models (without baskets) so we bungeed our camera bags and water to the back rack which worked ok. The good news was the wide tires and lower to the ground design made for a very stable ride and although I kept ride assist lowest level I did enjoy the sensation. It was also really easy to stop at some sites along the way, including this thermal pool.

The gravel road was in pretty good shape, but I was pleased to see the bike handle the rougher spots pretty well. Initially we discovered the shocks were turned off and it got even better once we turned that feature on. My major complaint was the seat wasn’t that comfortable, but we were lucky enough to see two Lectric bikes with all the bells and whistles on the trail and those larger seats would definitely do the trick.

Initially my plan was to ride the bikes to Fairy Falls but unfortunately that trailhead was no bikes allowed. We didn’t have chains or locks so decided to leave that for another day and continued on the bike path. The path was on the backside of the the Prismatic basin, which is probably the most iconic in Yellowstone. There is an overlook where you can supposedly get great shots but again the path was no bikes so we just finished out the trail to the other end. I should probably mention that Yellowstone is really not bike friendly and they actively discourage bikers on the main roads, but the trail served its purpose and was a great place to try out the bikes. Plus it was pretty.

As you can see when we were heading back the crowds were definitely getting larger. There were many envious glances as we breezed by folks going uphill using the pedal assist and since it was getting really hot I was super glad for the breeze. Another unexpected benefit was the area was pretty buggy, but on the bikes the bugs mainly left us alone. All in all I was pretty happy with the experience but Lee had one more area he wanted to explore.

After stopping at home and taking the dog for a walk, we headed out on the Frontier Trail. This national forest service trail is opened year round for snow shoers and cross country skiers and was in pretty rough shape. The bikes did surprisingly well on this rougher road with the exception of one steep hill. We both decided to get off and push the bikes up and even using pedal assist it was pretty tough. Honestly this trail was more suited for mountain bikes and my butt is still sore from that section a few days later. I would recommend a smoother path personally for future trips but we did make it there and back.

One last thing I should probably mention is another major concern of mine was bears. To be honest I have been somewhat hesitant to hike much because of bear and cub activities and I wasn’t sure I felt much better on a bike. I finally talked to Lee about it and asked what happened if we turned a corner and one of us was attacked and his answer (without pause) was the other person should haul ass. That oddly made me feel a little better, but I was still somewhat nervous when we were in the heavily treed areas with less visibility. Later I saw that I wasn’t being paranoid in my concerns because the forest service had special signs for what bikers should do if they saw a bear. They recommended standing your ground and never running, which I get for the average biker, but since these bikes can go 30mph the advice might be a little different. Not sure what I would do in that situation to be honest. Thankfully there isn’t bear activity in most areas so that problem is pretty Yellowstone specific.

Oh and another thing. Despite not riding a bike in a couple of years, I did pedal almost the entire way and my battery was still close to full when we were done. I’ll be honest after pushing the bike up the hill c I did use more power to get home, but overall I thought it was a good workout. We liked the experience so much that we decided to buy a couple of bikes ourselves and Lee ordered them along with front and back baskets, cup holders, and mirrors on Monday. All in it was around $3K which is not cheap but thankfully Lee has picked up a side gig that should cover the cost. I’ll do a more thorough review when they arrive in a couple of weeks, but wanted to share our experience while it was fresh in my mind.

We very much appreciate your support of our blog

  • You can purchase the ebook telling the story of how we became full-time RVers.
  • You can purchase our recipe book filled with 80 recipes we have cooked in our RV and taste tested by Lee himself. You can purchase the kindle or paperback version on Amazon or buy the Apple version on Itunes

Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Center

Although the park has been available to us every other day (based on license plate) we have yet to reenter it. Partly that is because Lee’s days off fell on our non day (his employer rearranged the scheduled going forward) and partly because the weather was only so-so on the days we were allowed. The restrictions have actually seen the crowds significantly reduced (I would estimate by as much as half) so we decided to spend one day off exploring West Yellowstone itself.

Number one on our list was the Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Center and I was pleasantly surprised. These smaller wildlife centers are a bit of a mixed bag but this one was reasonably priced ($15 for entry although we bought an annual $70 membership for two people) and had significant content for its size. The visitors center had numerous examples and we spent some time learning about the local animals.

After looking inside we walked outside and the area was surprisingly big. It had one giant area for bears, another for raptors, a building for otters, and finally a large wolf enclosure. Many people have concerns about animals in zoos but personally growing up near the Columbus Zoo (one of the best in the world) I like them. In my opinion it’s important for kids to see animals and it inspires them to want to protect them. Of course I am always concerned about the conditions the animals live in and in this case it was clear great attention had been paid.

At this facility, the bears and raptors are all rescues and would have died or been killed if they weren’t brought here. They also do something pretty cool that I have never seen before where they remove the animals from the pens and let kids hide their food. This allows the kids to participate in a VERY cool way and its good for the animals to have to search for their food. Keeps their brains active. We were not allowed to see the areas where the bears were kept when they weren’t in the large open area, and it is quite a bit smaller, but the open areas are very nice. Bears are solitary creatures and unfortunately can’t always mingle together.

The raptor area also had bios for each animal and included 3 bald eagles, hawks, two owls, and a vulture. These animals were all rescued and were injured bad enough they could not live in the wild and the detailed descriptions showed the negative impact people can have on wildlife.

One of my favorite sections was actually the ground squirrel area and since they had just been fed we got to watch them run around. They were super cute and I found them very entertaining.

We also really enjoyed the otter house and got to see a feeding there as well. Once again they hid the food and made them work for it and it was great watching the pair of otters in the water environment. It was hard to get good pics because the glass was foggy but we stayed for quite awhile because it was so entertaining.

My absolute favorite though was the wolves. We spent a long time talking to a nice volunteer who explained the wolves were not rescues because abandoned/injured cubs are rarely found in the wild. Because they live in packs if a parent dies another wolf will usually take over raising them so these wolves were descendants of the few pups that had been found. Adult wolves with injuries do not do well in captivity and since the purpose of the exhibit is to show wolves in a better light they are not put on display.

We were lucky enough to see the wolf feeding and again spent tons of time watching them. There are various vantage points you can watch the wolves and they were actually in three separate places. One of the packs had four wolves and they were in the largest area and then the second pack of two was in a smaller one. There was a lone wolf all by himself because his sister wouldn’t tolerate him and the team was currently working to integrate him into the other pack. It was pretty interesting because these families have all sorts of dynamics and the keepers monitor them closely and rearrange as needed to achieve the best possible combinations. There is no breeding in this facility so this is simply done to make the wolves as happy as possible.

Lastly the center has a great amphitheater which shows nature videos and an awesome gift shop. Lee and I really liked it and definitely plan on going back. If you come to this area with the goal of seeing wolves and bears I definitely recommend a visit, especially if you have kids. Seeing wolves and bears this close is not an opportunity you will get in the park and both Lee and I really enjoyed it.

So if you come to the area, I highly recommend it. Your animal sighting will be a “sure thing” and it will help a very good cause.

We very much appreciate your support of our blog

  • You can purchase the ebook telling the story of how we became full-time RVers.
  • You can purchase our recipe book filled with 80 recipes we have cooked in our RV and taste tested by Lee himself. You can purchase the kindle or paperback version on Amazon or buy the Apple version on Itunes

Living at High Elevation, Snow, Sleet, and Rain

Since the last three posts have been so beautiful I think its important to take a moment and talk about the reality of the weather here. Those three days were the anomaly and over the last three weeks almost every other day the weather has been so much worse. We have had several days with 3-4 inches of snow and almost every day has been overcast with intermittent rain/sleet/snow.

Jack LOVES the snow
One nights accumulation

Personally I can handle the cold (although 9 degrees a couple of morning was a bit much) but the lack of sun has been a real bummer. It’s been a long time since we have been anywhere the weather has been this bad for so long and I have to say I haven’t missed it. And not to be too whiny but the high elevation isn’t helping. West Yellowstone is at 6,667 feet and this is the highest elevation I have ever lived at. I have intermittently found myself to be light headed, nauseous, and fighting off dehydration. To be fair these moments are getting fewer and fewer the longer we are here, but combined with the weather not so great. I really feel sorry for the folks that just have a few days here, because if they pick the wrong few days it’s hard to see much of the park.

A few times we did go into town which has a surprising amount of original buildings from the 1800’s and I have to say I still really like it here. I also wanted to mention that the Visitors Center is excellent and has not only the town visitors center but also a desk with park rangers. Really good!

And since Lee gets such a great employee discount at the camera store I invested in a new 18-400mm lens. It works really great and is just slightly heavier than my other long lens, while being 100mm better. I am VERY happy with it.

Practicing with my new lens

One of the reasons the weather has been frustrating is we have been dying to see more of the park. I know we have the whole summer, but we keep hearing horror stories about the crowds that will be here soon and we want to take advantage of the time we have. On May 10th there was a 30 minute wait to get into the park at park mid day so its hard to imagine what it will look like in July and August. My plan is to see as many of the “hot ticket” sights in the park as early as possible and save the rest for when the crowds get crazy.

This sign explains the crazy crowds

It’s still easy to get in during the evening though although with the cold and wind I usually don’t want to. One day Lee went by himself and got some great pictures of a sow and two baby bears, but since he had to stand in the cold and wind for 30 minutes to get them, honestly I am not that upset I missed it. I was super happy for him though.

So cute!!

I did rally though when Julie and Casey came to visit and it was nice to hear they were sick of the weather as well. This is their fourth season working in the Tetons and they said this was much worse than usual. They made the 3-1/2 hour drive to get a camera from Lee’s camera store and to see the park. We were blessed with the best day in weeks on Sunday, which I will save for the next post, but had a nice happy hour and dinner at the Slippery Otter in town on Saturday night.

It so nice to see friends and we can’t wait to return the favor and drive down to see them in the Tetons.

We very much appreciate your support of our blog

  • You can purchase the ebook telling the story of how we became full-time RVers.
  • You can purchase our recipe book filled with 80 recipes we have cooked in our RV and taste tested by Lee himself. You can purchase the kindle or paperback version on Amazon or buy the Apple version on Itunes

First Time in West Yellowstone

Thankfully our driving day to West Yellowstone was a really nice one. In order to makeup the time we had lost the day before we did decide to push through. The drive was beautiful, especially when we reached the National Forest area and we loved driving along the Snake River.

We even found a beautiful rest stop to walk the dog. If you look right above the front of our RV you will see a bear cave.
We knew we were getting close to Yellowstone when we saw this sign. This is where Lee will be working all summer.

After a long driving day, we finally arrived at West Yellowstone a little later than we would like but were excited to arrive at our summer home, Fox Den Campground. Many campgrounds here are parking lots, but this one is older and has lots of trees. It also has a very nice family running it and they have gone out of their way to make us comfortable. Keep in mind if you come in April things are still pretty muddy (and snowy), but the clean air and lack of crowds might make it worth it.

The snow and mud can make walking Jack a little challenging. Had to give him a bath the first day when he jumped into a mud puddle 🙂

I had heard some negative things about the small town of West Yellowstone, but so far I really like it. The prices are higher (which we were prepared for) but not gouging like we have seen in other small resort towns. They also have all of the basic services including post office, library, police department, two small grocery stores, several gas station, restaurants, and tons of shops. Since the closest cities are Idaho Falls (1-1/2 hours) and Bozeman (2 hours) I was relieved to see the grocery stores carried the basics. In all fairness though I like the town now when hardly anyone is here, but I’ll let you know what happens when it is full of tourist for the season.

In addition to the services I mentioned there is a health clinic in town and three more in Yellowstone itself. Again I found that reassuring. Of course lots of restaurants and lots of hotels which range from the very fancy to more basic. These places get booked way in advance though so if you are planning on coming up here (even out of season) I would do some planning. When we arrived April 22 MANY of the places were still closed and the park itself only had main roads open. We have learned that most of the business in town are owned by various members of one large family and as their workforce trickles in more places are opened. Even without those places though this is a town people live in year-round. I asked one local who said the roads to Bozeman and Idaho Falls stay open all year long, which I thought was interesting.

Getting here early meant Lee was the first seasonal employee to start at the camera store and so far he really likes the job. He worked 10-6 five days the first week, but we are guaranteed at least one weekend day off together. We can even go into the park after he gets off work some days but unfortunately the weather has been really hit and miss. It has rained quite a bit and snowed several days and we have yet to have one clear sky day off together to visit the park. Still we have the whole summer so we are trying not to be too impatient with the grey skies and overnight freezing temps.

We very much appreciate your support of our blog

  • You can purchase the ebook telling the story of how we became full-time RVers.
  • You can purchase our recipe book filled with 80 recipes we have cooked in our RV and taste tested by Lee himself. You can purchase the kindle or paperback version on Amazon or buy the Apple version on Itunes