I slept like a brick in Cooke City, and by the early morning hours, I had started to feel less altitude fatigued. We picked up another Gatorade (a life-saver), some coffees, and a few fresh pastries from the Bearclaw Bakery before hitting the road. We planned to continue driving US-212 until we hit US-89 to head North. We didn’t realize that we would be going straight through Yellowstone National Park’s Northeast entrance until we reached the gate. It was ironic since the plan was to skip the park entirely in order to save time for Glacier, but that’s where the road took us so we happily bought a park pass and pressed onward.
The sky was bright and hot, opening before us with a searing shade of blue. The northern portion of the park is so different from the more popular entrances to the South – it’s quiet and open, with long stretches of flat land and animals roaming in the distance. We rounded a sharp bend and came to a grinding halt behind a small group of cars. Before we could react, a herd of Bison shuffled through the stopped traffic with babies in tow, casually strolling just a few feet beyond our car window. Two anxious motorcyclists began backing up slowly, unsure of how to react to the gaggle of large animals approaching them. Luckily, the group passed by without incident and the cars and motorcyclists started moving again. It’s a nice reminder that Yellowstone belongs to the animals, and we are merely visitors.
We made a brief stop at Mammoth Hot Springs to see sulfur-scented hot water drizzle across white and yellow hills as steam billows over the tourist walkways. I remember it from our first big road trip in 2012 and it’s still just as wild and cool to see.
Further down the road, we stopped for a soak in the Yellowstone Hot Springs, a man-made set of pools that draws from naturally flowing springs. It was a bit touristy, but a middle-of-nowhere setting seemed to keep the crowds at bay. It could also have been the unseasonably hot temperatures that day. The cold plunge pool kept me from melting.
We rolled into Bozeman in the late afternoon. I’ll never tire of the colorful peaks and hills that lead straight into Montana towns. Bozeman has a cool, manageably sized downtown with restaurants and bars set along a main street. We started off at Montana Ale Works where they were, ironically, playing a Phillies baseball game for us to enjoy from our bar stools. It still feels strange to sit at a bar like “before” even though I’ve been vaccinated for months. Bar stools give me a peculiar comfort. We got into a conversation with the man sitting next to us, who ended up being from South Africa. He recommended a place to get sourdough pancakes once we got to Missoula. “The sourdough part is the key”. For dinner afterward we picked Plonk wine bar, which served fantastic martinis and plates of ceviche in coconut milk, heart-of-palm crab cakes, and chicken skewers with mofongo. Heaven at a high-top table.
Our night went a bit too long and boozy, from rooftops to basement bars with live music. We were swept up in the excitement of a lively, walkable little city with great craft beer. And the beautiful feeling of semi-normalcy. I also blame the fact that the sun sets extra late…