When we made the decision to head out of Austin, it was with two main goals in mind: (1) to escape the Texas heat; and (2) to go somewhere with great hiking trails. An additional concern was finding places that would have availability during a busy Summer. Turns out, instead of reducing the number of travelers on the road, the pandemic multiplied it exponentially. Lacking the ability to jump on a plane or board a cruise ship, American vacationers everywhere have officially turned 2020 into “The Summer of the RV”
Yeah, yeah, I know. Whatever.
In any case, all this meant we were – even more so than usual – competing with a lot of people to find a campsite in a desirable location. We also needed to cover July 4 weekend – always a busy time.
On a lark, I looked up Henrys Lake State Park, a gorgeous park we first discovered in 2018, and, lo and behold, they had a cancellation on one of their prime spots for the time period we needed. Score! I grabbed 10 days and we officially had a plan.
Henrys Lake is wonderful! Located near Idaho’s border with Wyoming and Montana, not only is the setting gorgeous, but the campground is ideally laid out to take advantage of the marvelous scenery. Our site offered the best of all worlds, with mountains off one side:
…and lake views behind us:
Additionally, the park offers several well maintained hiking trails, which gave us plenty to do. In fact, during our ten day visit, we only left the park twice, once to visit Yellowstone and once to tackle a nearby hike. Henrys Lake was the perfect location for doing what we wanted to be doing.
Less perfect was the fact that, a couple weeks before our visit, a man got mauled by a grizzly bear at the park.
In fact, when we arrived, the hiking trails were closed because of bear activity.
Fortunately, a couple days after our arrival, park rangers gave visitors the all-clear, and off we went – a prayer in our hearts and bear spray in our hands.
There are a couple alternative loops one can make on the main trail system – all averaging out to about 3 miles, which was fine by us. The scenery is varied and beautiful and the weather is often dramatic; we went from blue skies and sunshine to 40 degrees and raining to thunderstorms with hail, all within a few days.
Of course, the happiest among us was Thor who realized that, beneath all the tall grasses next to the lake, was water! He then, promptly, spazzed out. (Kevin has been playing around with video editing software, so, enjoy…)
Once we’d explored the various trails inside the state park, I started looking around for other local, dog friendly hiking options. I found what appeared to be the perfect hike in Targhee National Forest …until I saw this commentary on a hiking site:
What I want to know is, which came first? The hiking trail or the “Home for Wayward Bears”?
I mean, really… WTF??
Who decided to build a hiking trail right through the middle of a dumping ground for pain in the ass grizzly bears???
Or did the hiking trail already exist when some bureaucrat decided to turn the whole place into the Hunger Games?
This is a strikingly pretty Alpine trail full of pine forests, mountain and valley views, and lush meadows:
Best of all, there’s a magnificent payoff midway through the hike:
When we first hiked this trail in 2018, the meadows were carpeted with wildflowers and we were blown away by all the colors. This time, it was a bit early for flowers, but that meant there was still a lot of snow.
And you know who loves snow? This guy!
He explored every patch.
The big ones…
The small ones…
The ones retreating up the side of the mountain… with Kevin dutifully trudging along behind him:
He pounced, he zoomed, he rolled, he munched…. It was the simplest and purest form of joy.
Henrys Lake is located just twenty minutes from the West entrance to Yellowstone National Park. We spent a ton of time there in 2018 and were completely blown away, so we figured it would be worth a return visit. This time, we headed for the back side of Old Faithful to explore more of the Upper Geyser Basin.
It turned out to be a great choice. We found all the qualities that make Yellowstone the festival of crazy we love, with far fewer people than some other popular spots.
Not that there weren’t people, of course, but Yellowstone is so enormous, there’s plenty of space to spread out.
Sadly, humanity being what it is, there had to be at least one moment that left us shaking our heads…
This is the “Morning Glory Pool”, a famously striking and brilliant hot spring, located about one mile behind Old Faithful.
The only problem: it’s supposed to be blue.
In the 1880’s, when the pool was named, it was bright blue. However, over the years, people who suck kept throwing junk into the water, and that junk interfered with the natural processes of the hot spring. Eventually, the temperature of the water fell, changing the types of bacteria that grow and provide the pool its color.
The night before our visit, I happened to read up on the history of the pool and, as we were walking up towards it, I was telling Kevin that back in the 1950’s, park officials had tried to clean out some of the junk and found numerous coins, handkerchiefs, towels and other garbage.
As we were shaking our heads at how thoughtless and irresponsible people can be, we walk up and see this: a group of friends taking turns jumping over the fence and walking to the back of the pool to take photos.
There are signs all over Yellowstone that warn against leaving the boardwalks and walking on the delicate grounds or getting anywhere near these pools – not only because it’s unsafe for the visitor, but because it’s destructive to the natural environment.
Sadly, there were no rangers around, but another tourist lit into them, resulting in their quick exit from the area.
When not wishing for a vicious grizzly bear mauling, we watched Old Faithful do her thing. This is the view from the backside of the geyser, opposite the hundreds of people who gathered in the main viewing area.
…and here’s a fun video Kevin put together combining imagery from our 2018 and 2020 visits. (Eat your heart out, Spielberg.)
Missoula – Parks & Rec
After ten idyllic days at Henrys, we headed north to Missoula. It was time to restock and do normal life stuff (there is not much – at all – in Island Park), so off to the big city, we went. The drive up was beautiful, a tiny sample of Montana’s natural majesty. (Click on any pic for a full sized version.)
We liked everything about Missoula. It’s a college town surrounded by gorgeous mountains, the people are friendly, everything is well maintained, and even the campground we stayed at was a standout.
Jim & Mary’s RV Park is known for its impressive landscaping. There are flower displays and gardens throughout the park and staff are always out and about working on keeping things in tip-top shape. Additionally, sites are reasonably spaced, there are plenty of trees, and it just has an overall nice feel to it.
Downtown, we explored some of the rails to trails/riverside paths that offer plenty of recreation space. The parks are nicely maintained, there’s an enormous off leash dog area right on the river, and plenty of space for art and community activities. We have no doubt that had we been here during a normal summer, there would have been outdoor concerts and other special events in these locations.
In addition to getting our must-do stuff done, we ventured out to Draught Works Brewery.
When it comes to this virus, I always think of the great George Carlin:
“Have you ever noticed that anybody driving slower than you is an idiot, and anyone going faster than you is a maniac?”
He was totally right and I feel like his sentiments apply directly to this pandemic.
We have friends who haven’t left their neighborhoods since March and we have friends who routinely dine inside at restaurants and only wear masks when they’re legally required to do so. And every one of them thinks what they’re doing is completely reasonable and other people are either: (a) paranoid; or (b) reckless.
For us, we try to keep up with the news and make decisions based on the sources and advice we trust. And those sources have us feeling pretty confident about being outside, as long as we’re reasonably distant from others.
So, when I saw that there was a brewery in Missoula that had converted their parking lot to outdoor seating, had placed their tables more than 6 feet apart, was using single use menus, and was requiring masks, not only did we feel comfortable going there, we wanted to patronize their establishment.
In our view, businesses that adapt to this situation and do everything they can to keep their staff and customers healthy should be rewarded.
Plus, beer is delicious and we like drinking it.
So, we went and… it. was. amazing. Amazing!
In addition to truly tasty beer, there was abundant sunshine, a nice breeze, and even a Thai food truck!
And if all that wasn’t enough, Batman, Superman, the Wonderbread guy, and some dude wearing a shark on his head made an appearance!
Why? No idea. Don’t care. We were busy enjoying our delicious, carb-y yumminess.
We visited twice. Both times were great and, since it’s been over a month and neither of us are on a ventilator, it seems to have been a success. Sweet!
And with that, we packed up and headed north to visit a place that’s been on both of our bucket lists since before we met: Glacier National Park. More on that next.
Where we stayed:
Henrys Lake State Park, Island Park, Idaho
Jim & Mary’s RV Park, Missoula, Montana