Baecation - Volume 1 - South Dakota, Montana & Yellowstone

In September, Aaron and I were lucky enough to take a road trip for his birthday. We spent our first night in Fort Collins, woke up the next day, had some birthday brunch at Lucille's (highly recommend this place) and headed to South Dakota. Our plans were to visit his best friend in Rapid City, head to Red Lodge, Montana and pray that the Bear Tooth Highway would be open. Things I learned along the way. Wyoming is windy. The drive from Cheyenne to Torrington looks a lot like home except far more antelope in Wyoming. Rapid City seems very Mid-western, but with a scenic view. Sturgis... drove right on by. Had no interest. Once we hit Montana I understood why so many people love it. Wide open spaces, blue sky and unique mountains. We spent the night at a motel in Red Lodge. Awoke the next morning to find out Bear Tooth Highway was closed at the Wyoming state line. We decided we would tough it out and drive as far as we could. Even though we still had Yellowstone planned for this trip, I was most excited about the Bear Tooth Highway. About 15 minutes out of Red Lodge you really start to go up in elevation. Every view around every corner was exponentially greater than the last. We drove and drove and finally realized we were in Wyoming. The pass was actually open, but the transportation website hadn't updated. The view from the top of the pass was incredible. A fresh snow, high alpine lakes, very little traffic. PERFECT! We headed down the pass with the goal of fishing. By that time it had grown chilly and windy (I repeat, Wyoming is windy) and a light snow started to fall. Sounds miserable, but it was beautiful. We winded the beautiful Wyoming side of the Bear Tooth Highway resisting the urge to be those people who stop after every curve because it's just so breath taking. We were in search of a place to camp and finally put good use to Aaron's new Softopper. The first spot we staked out had a beautiful view of Pilot Mountain, but as we were walking back to the truck I spotted Grizzly Bear paw prints. Perhaps a day old, but fresh enough to make us feel unwelcome. This forced us to find a new camping spot along the Clark's Fork of the Yellowstone River. The campsite was mostly vacant so we were able to snag a campsite close to the river. The greenish blue color of the water and dark green of the trees made it feel like we were in the Pacific Northwest. I didn't sleep a wink that night because, well, bears. Even though there were no bears around, this Florida chick will never get used to camping without the thought of being mauled by a bear. Very little sleep, but it didn't matter. We were finally headed to Yellowstone. We got up around 5am so we could get to the closest camping spot by 7. If you've ever camped in Yellowstone you know how strategic your camping game must be and if you've never camped in Yellowstone plan ahead. Way ahead. Perhaps a year ahead. We were lucky to snag a spot at Pebble Creek. Bison munching on grass; one brave enough to walk right through the campground before dinnertime. Nothing will make you feel small and insignificant like a 2000 pound creature pushing its way around. Yellowstone was mostly  as I expected. Lots of people, except in late fall there weren't as many, lots of bison, expansive land and very cold nights. We headed out to the Lamar Valley to do some fishing and try and spot some wolves. Later in the day we hiked up to Trout Lake to search for otters. Unfortunately, they were not around, but Aaron caught a beautiful 8-10" Cutthroat Trout. The first and only fish caught the whole trip. We only had 2 days in Yellowstone, but we knew we'd be back. Our next stop was the Grand Tetons.... from a distance. We were headed to Dubois so didn't get close, but they're still incredible from a distance. They were exactly how I imagined they'd be. Massive. As if someone cut out jagged mountain shapes and planted them on the earth. No foothills before them. A lake and then BAM mountains. I regret not spending more time, but it was for good reason. The whole trip I was worried about seeing a bear at our campsite or out on a hike. One from the truck, on the other hand, was welcome. We were in luck. The drive from Moran Junction to Dubois, about an hour in, we spotted two grizzly bears on the side of the highway, foraging. Our truck and a few other cars kept distance while a mother and cub had an afternoon snack. I could have sat in the truck forever watching them. I felt very fortunate to see them in such a controlled environment, but I was also saddened that they had to venture so close to the highway to find food. I will never forget that moment. That evening we stayed in the most adorable Airstream trailer we found on Airbnb. The hosts were great and the town of Dubois isn't much, but it's just enough. More stuffed and mounted jack-a-lopes in a square radius than anywhere else in the world. Delicious dinner from the Cowboy Cafe and some apple pie for dessert, which turned into breakfast. The last day on the road was tough. The drive from Dubois back to Denver was rough. It was very windy. Windiest day so far. The Wind River mountains were beautiful, but as most mountain ranges, the most beautiful places are never spotted from the highway. We think backpacking there would be incredible. The central/south central part of Wyoming is grungy. Dry, dusty and unwelcoming. After being there for several hours (longer than I would recommend) we were relieved to see the sign for Colorado. We did so much in 5 days, but didn't even scratch the surface. If you've made it this far in my blog post you have my sympathy. I am not a writer. I'm an over-writer. When you take a road trip so grand it's hard to summarize everything and every emotion into one photo and 20-30 words on something like Instagram. So thank you for sticking around. This trip reminded me how lucky I am to call the west home. How lucky I am to have the opportunity to travel with my best friend. I'm living the life I set out to live when left Florida. It's been greater than I ever imagined.