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The 5 Gateway Towns to Yellowstone National Park

Despite the general Western flavor of the towns that give residency to Yellowstone National Park’s gateways, before 1890 these five towns would have appeared an inconsonant mishmash of patched together backwoods watering holes.  But Yellowstone National Park, as vast and varied and tumultuous as it is, leaves no room for discord.

Like an army on a battlefield made cohesive by the power of a common cause, everything within its vast caldera and expansive rim has been pulled together, however begrudgingly, by the same forces of nature that once blew it apart. All those stray, eccentric pieces are now part of the YNP common denominator. But Yellowstone’s gateways are the Old West and the old west, still true to its hard fought infamy, continues to kick common denominators to the ever dusty curb.

Among the who’s who of western towns, Yellowstone National Park’s gateway towns embody our romanticized daydreams of the Old West. In other words they have an element of kitsch.  But it’s so guileless and enthusiastically presented that our expectations for an old west experience, however kitschy, are exceeded by the same leap the Colt revolver made over the bow and arrow.  We become immersed voyeurs to the old west ways, loving every moment of it. 

Small treasures offering inimitable charm and scenery, abundant wildlife, and a broad range of alternatives capable of meeting everyone’s entertainment needs, these towns will not disappoint.

Kitsch:  “Sentimentally charming, tacky and fun all rolled up in one. One catch with kitsch is that you’re never quite sure if it’s supposed to be serious or not. It’s that uncertainty that is amusing. Kitsch is melodramatic, overdone, gaudy and tacky or sentimental and folksy. It’s so bad that it’s cool.”  Yes, please. 

Map of the 5 Yellowstone entrances

Map of the 5 Yellowstone Entrances

** Exploring Yellowstone’s entrances and the towns anchoring them, takes homework.  The North Gate entrance in Gardiner, Montana is the only entrance that’s fully accessible and open year-round.  

West Yellowstone, Montana: West Gate Entrance

In 1905, E.H. Harriman, president of the Union Pacific Railroad, and Frank J. Haynes, president of Monida & Yellowstone Stage Line met in the area of West Yellowstone for a tour of the Park. Afterwards, Harriman constructed a railroad branch from St. Anthony, Idaho to the west entrance of the national park. By December 1907 the tracks were laid and when the snow pack melted, the first tourists made their way to the Park through this entrance in June 1908. Each summer, the “Yellowstone Special” train made trips daily from Salt Lake City to West Yellowstone. West Yellowstone developed around this flow of tourists.  For reference, park tourists had already begun entering the North Gate from Gardiner, Montana in 1903. 

When you get to West Yellowstone, park the car.  The town is compact and meandering friendly.  

Not To Be Missed — Strolling, huckleberry ice cream, the Union Depot Dining Hall, and the Yellowstone Historic Center Museum.

West Yellowstone airport (WYS) is open to commercial flights (Delta) from June 1 – September 30. 

For 2019, this entrance opens April 19. 

 

sign for entering West Yellowstone, Montana

Fun Times Ahead

 

sign for huckleberry ice cream

Snacks and Kitsch

 

a cone of huckleberry ice cream

Out of Focus Huckleberry Ice Cream, In Focus Bare Feet

 

Jackson, Wyoming:  South Gate Entrance 

It’s easy to believe you’ve reached Yellowstone National Park when you haven’t — you’re still in Grand Teton National Park. Beauty begets beauty so the confusion is understandable. Grand Teton National Park begins about five miles north of Jackson on 191/89. The physical entrance gates to Grand Teton National Park are at Moose Junction, 12 miles north, and/or Moran Junction, about 30 miles north of Jackson.  The south entrance of Yellowstone National Park is about 50 miles north of Jackson on 191 (for reference, Old Faithful is approximately 40 miles further).  

Since we’re talking about Jackson in the context of Yellowstone’s South Entrance, in the fall (my favorite time of year there), you may be able to drive a distance towards Yellowstone from Jackson, but that entrance closes in October.  This area can see snowfall in the range of 300 inches over the winter season.  Which means if you don’t do your homework and you wind up in Jackson desiring to drive to Yellowstone after the entrance closes, you’ll have to drive west into Idaho, then north into Montana, east to Livingston (yep, all the way to Highway 90) and finally, south to Gardiner (the West entrance is closed for the winter as well so don’t go knocking on that door). Gardiner, Montana is home to the North Gate and the only Yellowstone entrance that’s open year-round.  Do your homework. The trip is about 200 miles of brutal driving. In other words, throw a kiss at Yellowstone because you won’t be seeing it until spring. One qualification, you can get enter the South entrance with a snowmobile.  

Jackson Hole’s airport (JAC) is open year round to commercial flights, typically Delta, United and Skywest, with occasional/seasonal flights available from American.

For 2019, this entrance opens May 10 and generally closes in October. 

50 Things To Do in Jackson Hole and Grand Teton National Park

 

antler arches Jackson Hole Town Square

Antler Arches Jackson Town Square

 

stagecoach driver

Jackson Hole Stagecoach

 

western bluebird on a post at the base of the Tetons

Western Bluebird

 

atlas view map of Jackson Hole and Yellowstone area

Map of Jackson Hole & Yellowstone are

Cody, Wyoming: East Gate Entrance 

Cody’s offerings pivot around its progenitor Buffalo Bill Cody.  Which means one thing – you’re in for a show. Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show ran for 30 years, making him the most famous entertainer in the world in the early 1900s.  Set aside plenty of time for your  52 mile drive from Cody to Yellowstone National Park.  President Theodore Roosevelt called it “the 50 most scenic miles in the world.”

Yellowstone Regional Airport in Cody serves the entire area with commuter flights offered by major carriers year-round from Denver, Colorado and Salt Lake City, Utah.

For 2019, this entrance opens May 3.

Buffalo Bill Historical Center

Cody Nite Rodeo

The Irma Hotel

Buffalo Bill State Park / Reservoir

 

snow covered mountains on road from Cody to Yellowstone

Road From Cody to Yellowstone

 

the bar at the Irma Hotel in Cody

Irma Hotel Bar, Cody

 

sign for Chief Joseph Scenic Highway

Highway 296 between Cody, Wyoming and Cooke City, Montana

Cooke City, Montana: Northeast Gate Entrance

For so little infrastructure, I’ve a lot to say about this Yellowstone gateway. Cooke City, Montana has done with its remote birthright what it could. First mining, then Yellowstone National Park. Originally named Shoo-Fly, the mining town was renamed in 1880 in an attempt to flatter a Northern Pacific Railroad executive into putting a stop there (apparently Shoo-Fly struck even the 1880 sensibilities as uncultured, and they dreamily desired to live in a city). In 1877 this country helped hide the Nez Perce Chief Joseph and his 800 or so band of hold-outs from General Howard’s 2,000 strong Cavalry for three months. Railroads don’t go where outnumbered bands of undersupplied men on horseback can elude the United States army for months.

I can see why the townspeople wanted a railroad in there.  Getting to Cooke City is a gutsy endeavor.  Highways 296 and 212 merge into a single road and from that junction the town is another 14 miles of nothing but bravery. And that’s assuming you’ve got any left.  Coming out of Red Lodge, Montana on 212, BearTooth Pass at 10,974 ft. fiercely protects this route.  Coming out of Cody, Wyoming on 296, Dead Indian Pass at 8,066 feet on the Chief Joseph Highway with views of the Absaroka’s Pilot and Index Peaks (11,708 & 11,313 feet) guards the other. Pretty sure the railroad executive never made it to the town hall meeting. 

Cooke City has a year-round population approximating 100. Three hundred cavort on the one paved street in the summer months of July and August. Even though it’s considered Yellowstone’s Northeast entrance gateway community, Silver Gate, a few miles past Cooke City, actually claims the ranger station.

Take note, if you’ve not entered the Park through this least-traveled gate, this small community and the drive to get there, epitomize Yellowstone’s wildness.

The Northeast Entrance remains open year round but that’s a mere technicality.  Since the Beartooth Highway (212) closes in September/October, you can only access the gate and Cooke City from within the park.  Tricky. 

 

Index Peak in the Asbsaroka Mountains

Pilot Peak, Absaroka Mountains

 

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Snow Country’s Obvious Signs

 

historical stop, the general store in Cooke City Montana

Cooke City, Montana General Store

 

northeast entrance sign Yellowstone National Park

Northeast Entrance Yellowstone National Park

 

Gardiner, Montana: North Gate Entrance (the original gateway into YNP)

In 1872 when President Ulysses S Grant declared Yellowstone the nation’s first national park, Gardiner, Montana, 100 miles as the crow flies from what would become the park’s darling South entrance, was the only threshold.  Home to one of the oldest roads in Yellowstone, the Old Gardiner Road was used to ferry visitors into Mammoth Hot Springs from the Northern Pacific Railroad depot in Cinnabar, Montana. The original host to Yellowstone’s first visitors established as a 1880s stagecoach route, it’s still unpaved, and one of the few roads in the park that excludes RVs. 

President Chester A Arthur was the first U.S. president to visit Yellowstone. In 1883, he and his party led by General Sheridan, rode on horseback over the Old Gardiner Road to the park headquarters at Mammoth Hot Springs (Mammoth Hot Springs still reigns as Park headquarters).  

The Roosevelt Arch was dedicated by President Theodore Roosevelt on April 24, 1903. 

The Gardiner entrance remains the only entrance that’s open year-round.

Fort Yellowstone and the beautiful travertine terraces of Mammoth Hot Springs are just beyond this gate. 

 

the large stone entrance to Yellowstone in Gardner, Montana

Yellowstone’s North Entrance; Gardner, Montana. The Roosevelt arch was dedicated by President Theodore Roosevelt on April 24, 1903.

 

travertine terraces at Mammoth Hot Springs

Travertine Terraces, Mammoth Hot Springs

 

baby buffalo with mother at Yellowstone's North Entrance

Spring at Yellowstone’s North Entrance

 

US post office Yellowstone National Park

Yellowstone Main Post Office, Mammoth Hot Springs

 

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50 Things to-do in Jackson Hole & Grand Teton National Park

At some point every year, my thoughts turn to Jackson and the Tetons. A hunger to see them, breathe the mountain air, gaze upon the abundant wildlife, dine at my favorite restaurants, and hike favorite trails, inevitably starts to gnaw.  

Some can’t fathom traveling to the same place twice; there is indeed a great deal to see in the world. But even among those with the most severe case of wanderlust, many have a favorite destination – a place whose familiar embrace is longed for.

Jackson Hole, Wyoming is that place for me.  The wonder and enchantment of the mountains and the valley is constant. It’s the intrigue generated by the continual motion of rotating sensory stimulus that causes me to travel there again and again — it is never the same twice.

Grand Teton National Park and Jackson Hole overlap (one of only two airports in the United States in a National Park). I’ve broken the list down by what’s technically in the Park and what isn’t. With a map and this list, you’ll see some of the best the area has to offer.

couple looking at the Tetons

The Tetons from Jackson Lake Lodge

 

Grand Teton National Park

Schwabacher Landing

 

Teton Pass Sign in the winter

Lots of Snow

Teton Pass sign in the spring

Glorious Spring

the author with a Wyoming Cutthroat

Wyoming Cutthroat

Grand Teton National Park

1. Walk through Jackson Lake Lodge. The wall of windows at the back facing the Teton Mountain Range frame a spectacular view. The wildlife watching at dusk from the outdoor patio at the back is fantastic. Highway 89/191 just north of Jackson Lake Dam.
2. Enjoy a meal on the patio at Signal Mountain Lodge – the PILE of memorable (based on size and taste) nachos and the tequila lime chicken quesadilla are a must. Add insult to injury and get the chocolate pecan bourbon pie to go and one of their palm-sized homemade cookies at the checkout counter.
3. Since you’re already there, drive to the top of Signal Mountain. Teton Park Road south end of Jackson Lake. And yes, you CAN drive to the top.
4. Take the boat across Jenny Lake and walk up to Inspiration Point/Hidden Falls. Teton Park Road.
5. Take a hike. There are many from which to choose and for all fitness levels. From the Taggart Lake hike of 4 miles to the all day not-for-the-faint-of-heart Amphitheatre Hike (rated very strenuous), there’s something for everyone. Taggart Trailhead – Teton Park Road just north of the Moose Entrance gate; Amphitheatre Trailhead – Teton Park Road, Lupine Meadows, north of Taggart trailhead and south of Jenny Lake.
6. Drive to Antelope Flats for wildlife viewing. Road turns East off of Highway 89/191 just north of Moose Junction. Watch for a sign.
7. See the barns on Mormon Row for a classic view of the Tetons. 13 miles north of Jackson on 89/191, go east at the Gros Ventre Road turnoff, then head north on the first road that junctions. Mormon Row is in the southern area of Antelope Flats.
8. For scenery and wildlife viewing, find Schwabacher’s Landing. It’s a photographer’s dream. Highway 89/191 north of Moose Junction.
9. The same goes for Oxbow Bend. Highway 89/191 north of Moran Entrance Station and south of Jackson Lake Junction.
10. Find the spot where the 1953 Western film, Shane, was filmed (towards Kelly).
11. See the Gros Ventre (Grow Vaunt) Slide Geological Area. On June 23, 1925, 50 million cubic yards slid off the side of Sheep Mountain damming the Gros Ventre River and creating Lower Slide Lake. Highway 89/191 just north of Jackson and south of the airport, turn East onto the Gros Ventre Road. Follow the paved road past Kelly.
12. Stand in awe at the Snake River overlook made famous by Ansel Adams. Highway 89/191 north of Schwabacher’s Landing, south of Triangle X Ranch (all marked).
13. Locate the Old Patriarch Tree (about a 15 minute walk off the road). 89/191 north of Moose Junction. If you want the GPS coordinates, you’ll have to leave a comment and ask me for those!  UPDATE – I’ve lost the GPS coordinates.  I can walk to it and the next time I promise to make a note, and to put it on here.  Enough games.  It’s a tree.  
14. Stay at a dude ranch. Any dude ranch.
15. Take a horseback ride. Anywhere.

This one is too spectacular to be relegated to a numbered list – climb Grand Teton.  

the author at Grand Teton Base Camp

Grand Teton Base Camp

Jackson Hole Area

Downtown Jackson Hole

Antler Arches

Big Smile, Tiny Cutthroat Trout

Big Smile, Tiny Cutthroat

snake river overlook B&W film

Snake River Overlook

 

a view of the snow covered Tetons

Postcard View

16. Get pictures at the top of Teton Pass (8,341 feet), in front of the famous Teton Pass sign with the cowboy pointing towards Jackson Hole (especially fun during the winter when the snow covers most of the sign). Approximately 11 miles west of Jackson on Highway 22 and just up the mountain from Wilson.
17. Speaking of Wilson: grab a cappuccino and bagel at Pearl Street Bagels (my fav? everything bagel with sundried tomato, olive oil cream cheese + an oatmeal craisin cookie) and eat it on the picnic table just out back.  There’s also a Pearl Street Bagels in the town of Jackson but it lacks something (even though the food is just as good) compared to the Wilson location.  Also in Wilson, eat at Nora’s Fish Creek Inn. Get a soda pop at the General Store.
18. See the National Museum of Wildlife Art. Just north of Jackson on 89/191. Be sure to check out the gift shop.
19. Drive to the Curtis Canyon Overlook. In Jackson behind the hospital, take the Elk Refuge Road. It’s a dirt road that makes a forced turn to the north – after that change of direction, take the first road east. Wind your way into the backcountry until you see the sign and the overlook. Great place. I once photographed an eclipse from there. And big horn sheep.
20. If you know how to flyfish, then wet a line here. If not, take a lesson or a guided trip. Check out Jack Dennis (now Grand Teton Flyfishing) or several other flyshops for their offerings.
21. Take a drive on the Moose-Wilson road. Make sure you have binoculars for the wildlife. North of the airport on 89/191, take the Moose Junction exit. Before you get to the Grand Teton National Park gate, you’ll see a sign for the road on your left.
22. Wine tasting at Dornan’s; pizza at Dornan’s; cookies at Dornan’s (inside the grocery shop). North of airport on 89/191, take the Moose Junction exit. Dornan’s has a sign just past the turnoff.
23. Raft down the Snake River (through the Canyon). Several outfitters to choose from.
24. Chicken pizza at the Brew Pub (Snake River Brewery – downtown Jackson). Any beer at the Brew Pub – micro brewed on the premises.
25. Try on and or have made an authentic, beaver fur, cowboy hat at Sing Hat Company.  Christy Sing crafts works of art for the head. 
26. Stay at Wyoming Inn, or the Four Seasons, or the Snake River Lodge & Spa, or the Wort Hotel.
27. Try Pica’s Mexican Taqueria restaurant near Albertsons in downtown Jackson. There’s a florist and a few other shops next to them. They have great Mexican food, terrific margaritas. The fish tacos are my favs.
28. Breakfast at Bubba’s – biscuits and gravy, pancakes – best I’ve ever had!! Great omelets.
29. Any meal or snack at The Bunnery (downtown Jackson)
30. The Blue Lion Restaurant! Have the stuffed mushrooms as an appetizer and the lamb shank for an entree (downtown Jackson).
31. Dinner & oyster shooters at the The Rendezvous Bistro. My husband loves the green oyster shooters, I love the red ones. Try both. (South of downtown Jackson)
32. Massage at the Rusty Parrot Lodge (downtown Jackson)
33. Take in one of the many festivals. The Fall Arts Festival is in September. Film Festival in September/October. Music Festival in July and August. 
34. Persephone Bakery.  7:00 am – 6:00 pm.  Picnic (smoked salmon and cucumber toast).  7:00 am – 3:00 pm. 
35. Shop at Skinny Skis and Teton Mountaineering in downtown Jackson – my two favorite shopping excursions in the world (go up the stairs in Teton Mountaineering and you’ll find their sale items).
36. Walk inside Atelier Ortega’s chocolate shop, then try to walk out empty-handed. Or the dessert boutique, CocoLove.  Chef Oscar Ortega is a Master Chocolatier. 
37. For fun, unique, home interior shopping, Stockton & Shirk.
38. Shop at The Bootlegger in downtown Jackson.
39. Take a sleigh ride on Elk Refuge in winter.
40. Order an Arnold Palmer wherever you eat (it’s a tea/lemonade mix and very Jackson).
41. Tram ride to the top of the Teton Village mountain (Rendezvous Mountain) and hike down, or NOT.
42. Enjoy lunch or simply a walk through at Teton Village’s Mangy Moose Restaurant. The Idaho trout fish and chips are memorable as is the full sized stuffed moose hitched to a sleigh hanging from the ceiling.
43. Dinner at the Bar J Chuckwagon on Highway 22 (on the way to Teton Village). You’ll get a real chuckwagon meal (fit for a king), a wagon ride, and a cowboy music show.
44. Hike to the top of Snow King (ski mountain in downtown Jackson) and if you can’t do that, take the ski lift – GREAT aerial view of Jackson.
45. Hike up High School Butte and watch the handgliders take off.
46. Find the Sleeping Indian (hint: Sheep Mountain).
47. Find the town square’s live webcam and wave to friends at home (stand on the corner near the stagecoach office and wave to the cam on top of Jackson Trading Company); sit in the town square, admire the elk horn arches (all naturally shed), and people watch.
48. Attend the Shootout every summer evening at 6:00 p.m. (downtown Jackson) and ride in a stagecoach. 
49. Find an art gallery brochure and take a self-guided tour around the galleries located on the Jackson town square.
50. Attend a rodeo.

Jackson Hole Hill Climb

51.  BONUS!  Attend the World Championship Hill Climb (snow mobile stunts — great fun).

 

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Hard Life

 

Yellowstone’s Chimeric End of the Road

An ad infinitum judgment of isolation is pinned to the town by the immutable saw-toothed ridges of the Absaroka and Beartooth Mountain ranges. As I step outside the truck to see the town from the proper height, the eclipse from a large tree envelops me in its satiny cold field.  A puff of wind pushes strands of hair into chapstick. Clawing to locate and extract them, I step from the shadow into the light. Cars stowed on concrete porches, lower story windows boarded against a late afternoon sky alternating between aureate October lightness and winter gloom shedding snow like a strip tease, make for an ambiguous sense of place.

Lamps in upper story windows toss beacons of welcome. But the one sound – sips and sighs of intact blankets of smoke hanging above each chimney as they’re forced to separate and dissipate, arrests any notion of coziness. Make no mistake, winter here is serious and it’ll not stand for an outsider’s romanticized projection of it upon a town it’s preparing to overtake. It stamps the ground with a suffocating updraft; a demand for respect.

No faces have shown themselves and as I begin in earnest to discover one, I wonder if the 2nd coming hasn’t occurred during my drive from Cody, Wyoming leaving me the only hapless soul in town. There is but one road into Cooke City, Montana from the outside world.  The wildness of Yellowstone’s Super Caldera lies on the other side. This is the end of the road. As I glance over a shoulder to see my exit darkening, I feel simultaneously favored and cursed by the chimerical scene before me.

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Cooke City, Montana

I consider the effort to clamor into the Cooke City General Store for food (do boarded windows have adequate finger/footholds?) and try to imagine the eventuality of being eye level with 2nd story windows, elevated there by a platform of snow. Like lying on your back, head dangling from the edge of a bed while pretending the floor is the ceiling, the ceiling the floor, it’s a strangely appealing, altered perspective.

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Cooke City, Montana has done with its remote birthright what it could. First mining, then Yellowstone National Park. Originally named Shoo-Fly, the mining town was renamed in 1880 in an attempt to flatter a Northern Pacific Railroad executive into putting a stop there. Coming over BearTooth Pass at 10,974 feet on Highway 212 out of Red Lodge, Montana or Dead Indian Pass, 8,066 feet on the Chief Joseph Highway out of Cody with views of the Absaroka’s Pilot and Index Peaks (11,708 & 11,313 feet)  should have given the townspeople clues as to the outcome of their flattery – no way, no how. In 1877 this country helped hide the Nez Perce Chief Joseph and his 800 or so band of hold-outs from General Howard’s 2,000 strong Cavalry for three months. Railroads don’t go where outnumbered bands of undersupplied men on horseback can elude a United States army for months.

Cooke City has a year-round population approximating 100. Three hundred cavort on the one paved street in the summer months of July and August. Even though it’s considered Yellowstone’s Northeast entrance gateway community, Silver Gate, a few miles past Cooke City, actually claims the ranger station.

Take note, if you’ve not entered the Park through this least-traveled entrance, you’re missing a lot more than a momentary gut-check about the 2nd coming. This small community and the drive to get there, epitomize Yellowstone’s wildness.

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Snow poles stand alert and ready.

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Yellowstone’s East Entrance, the 50 most beautiful miles in America

“It charmed me, intrigued me, seduced me so completely and in such a way that memories of it result in the kind of longing normally reserved for the best fruit pie of your life.”  This journal entry was made after my first encounter with Yellowstone in 2003. The best fruit pie of your life is a powerful memory; one that will be difficult to surpass. Or forget. If your visions of sugarplums are instead bodacious double crust fruit pies, you’ll understand. If not, pity.

Just in case the first paragraph gravely misdirected you, this post is about Yellowstone,  and sadly, not fruit pies.

I’m not the only one infatuated with Yellowstone and the surrounding area. Some famous people whose opinions really count, feel the same. President Theodore Roosevelt called the stretch of highway between Cody, Wyoming and the East Gate of Yellowstone National Park “the fifty most beautiful miles in America”.

Named the Scenic Byway of Highway 20, aka the Wapiti Valley, the road is wedged into a valley shaped by the flow of the Shoshone River. The swath of wildness is charged with history and scenery. The Buffalo Bill Dam/Reservoir and Buffalo Bill State Park were worth the drive alone.

Buffalo Bill Reservoir, Cody, Wyoming

Buffalo Bill Reservoir

Nothing mechanical could capture what I saw with my own eyes. I didn’t try to create art from art, but rather to simply document I’d actually been there. Sometimes point and shoot is all you need do.  Things like this burn into your memory and you may forget when it happened but you never forget that it did.

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The East entrance‘s ranger station was built in 1934 but visitors staying in Cody, Wyoming had been entering the Park for years prior (Yellowstone was designated a National Park in 1872).

Cody was established in 1896 by wild west showman, William F. Cody, “Buffalo Bill” along with a group of investors from Buffalo, New York and Sheridan, Wyoming. They realized the potential for tourism since Yellowstone was only 50 miles west. Burlington Northern Railroad reinforced (and rewarded) the tourism dream when they completed a line into Cody in 1901.

Instead of the railroad, I drove. The round trip of 100 miles to Yellowstone from Cody and back took 7 hours. That should tell you that either I drive really, really slow, or there was a lot to see. Given that I’ve had a speeding ticket in almost every state I’ve driven, the latter is the best guess.

These guys did their part to make sure no one was in a hurry.

east entrance bison

American Bison

For more information on Yellowstone, check out these links:

Yellowstone’s Original Entrance

Official Yellowstone National Park Site

Lodges of East Yellowstone

Buffalo Bill Cody Scenic Byway

** The East entrance closes from early November to sometime in April because of snow. Be sure to do your homework before heading there in the winter.

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Yellowstone National Park’s Original Entrance

Yellowstone’s original entrance in Gardiner, Montana, and the only one open year-round, is framed by the Roosevelt Arch.  While all the literature points out this entrance is the only one open all year, few state why. The annual snowfall in Gardiner approximates 30 inches, while the rest of the Park averages 150 to 400 inches, depending on elevation. And once entering the Park from Gardiner you’ll be met with closed roads during the winter over much of the Park.  So schedule a Snowcoach tour and do your homework if you’re planning to see Yellowstone during the winter (a highly recommended journey).

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Dedicated in 1903 by President Theodore Roosevelt, who was already on vacation in the park when asked to lay the cornerstone, the arch is 50 feet high and made of locally quarried basalt — plentiful since Yellowstone sits atop one of the earth’s largest volcanic hot spots.

The arch was erected as the formal entrance to the Park in 1903 since most visitors arrived via the Northern Pacific Railroad’s nearby stop in Cinnabar, Montana. Stagecoaches made the remaining short trek to Gardiner. I cannot imagine arriving there by railroad. I cannot imagine arriving there by any means of transportation of the day.  The ground boils beneath you while the mountains always coddle snow on top. Were it not for modern climate control’s tempering of these extremes, conditions would be brutal most anytime of the year.

While the arch may be Gardiner’s claim to fame and really the only thing of note to see there, it’s worth a stroll to see some of the older parts of town. The Flying Pig Camp Store has internet access and bear pepper spray, an important combination you’ll see frequently in these parts. There’s plenty of lodging, restaurants, and outfitters so it’s a well stocked and not overrun base with which to explore Yellowstone.  Gardiner is 53 miles south of Livingston. Bozeman is 26 miles west of Livingston on Highway 90, providing the only airport in the area serviced by major airlines (most seasonal). Billings’ Logan International Airport (BIL) is 117 miles east of Livingston on Highway 90 and offers a much broader array of scheduled flights on major airlines.

Mammoth Hot Springs, 5 miles south of Gardiner is the Park’s headquarters and an eye opening welcome to the ancient, wild world of Yellowstone. From mid-April to early June, bison new-borns dot the ground. Bison is the correct scientific term for the North American species, but “buffalo” has become an accepted synonym.  In the seventeenth century, French explorers in North America referred to the new species they encountered as “les boeufs”, meaning oxen or beeves. The English arriving later, changed the pronunciation to “la buff”. The name grew distorted as “buffle”, “buffler”, “buffillo”, and, eventually, “buffalo”.

Yellowstone has the largest free-roaming bison herd in the world, estimated at 3,500 head.

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Female bison’s gestation period approximates 9.5 months. Twins are extremely rare. At the turn of the 20th century the bison herd had been slaughtered from a high of 120 million to less than 30. Today they approximate 500,000. Bison are a ruminant similar to cattle, in that they chew their cud. They can weigh up to 2,200 pounds and run at speeds up to 40 mph. Talk about mass in motion!

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Mammoth Hot Springs – all about extremes. Heat, water, limestone, and rock fracture combine to create terraces of travertine. The travertine is deposited as white rock, but microorganisms and living bacteria create beautiful shades of oranges, pinks, yellows, greens, and browns. The terraces are constantly changing.

No discussion of Mammoth Hot Springs/Gardiner would be complete without a reference to the Elk that migrate in early fall when the weather cools off and they re-emerge from the coolness of higher elevations.   If you stay at the Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel, your day will begin and end with the eerie, wild sounds of male Elk bugling for the rut and a change of seasons. It’s a sound I recommend everyone hear once; it’s unforgettable.

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Wapiti; not a petting zoo.

Yellowstone Map

Yellowstone Map

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The Grand Climb

 

Tammie DooleyAbout SRT... I’m a traveler, writer and photographer for whom the open road frequently summons. Adventurous solo road trips are a staple for me, and a curiosity. So I created this website to share them and inspire you to step out and give them a try. Welcome!

A soul that sees beauty may sometimes walk alone – Wolfgang Von Goethe

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