Well, not quite the first stop…
It takes 24 hours to drive from Indianapolis to Yellowstone, so we had a few pitstops along the way, as well as an unplanned detour back towards Chicago for 90 minutes, making our 24 hours closer to 27 (lesson learnt: always have Google Maps on, no matter how sure you are of your route).
We were actually meant to start with a 3-day jaunt in the black hills of South Dakota to see the Badlands, Crazy Horse, and where a few presidents are reportedly carved into the hillside. But, as we both contracted a lurgy within days of leaving, we postponed and the Black Hills had to be cut to make our date (booked 6 months in advance) with Yellowstone. Whilst we were both disappointed to be driving across such a vast stretch of the country only stopping for coffee, fuel (for both the roo and her human companions) and sleep it was amazing to see how much the landscape changed again and again.
Once we got to Yellowstone, it was incredible. It is the first National Park in the World (thanks again to our good friends the Roosevelts, although this one was Teddy’s doing) and you can see how it inspired the idea of National Parks. It is hard to do the rugged thermal beauty justice in the written word, so here is my photo essay of our highlights….
As beautiful as Yellowstone was, it was also the most challenging stay so far.
Vanlife in the cold was something new to the Eagleroo crew. And when I say cold, some days barely crept above freezing and the overnight lows were -10C (14F). It was impossible to be outside without a ski jacket on, and most of the time I wished that I had brought my ski pants, too. This was a shock to our constitutions, having just driven from Indy where the mercury hung around the 30C (86F) mark. Erik drove us into the park in a blizzard (he agrees it was a blizzard, this wasn’t an Australian’s version of a ‘blizzard’) and although the snow generally melted pretty quickly once the sun hit it in the afternoon, there was plenty of the white stuff to be seen, crunched through and admired.
The night we arrived we jumped into bed fairly soon after arriving and, snuggling under our winter comforter with beanies on, we were cozy and slept pretty well. The second night, however, we left the doors of the van open for hours as we prepared, ate and packed up our dinner (Yellowstone is strict bear country. Absolutely nothing can be left out, meaning we essentially had to pack up camp after every meal). When we climbed into bed that night, we realised that our memory foam mattress which held the heat so well in summer also holds the cold equally well in winter. I am not lying when I say there was a moment that night when I genuinely wondered if this was how hypothermia started. It took a good two hours for the bed to heat up that night, and we vowed to buy some hot water bottles to help warm the bed up before we got into it in future.
The remoteness of Yellowstone’s campsites also meant that whilst we were at our home base we were sans hot water, showers, electrical hook up or any sort of phone reception. Fortunately, it did have fully plumbed bathrooms which were heated (yes, heated!) which provided a great reprieve from the cold, particularly when it came time to get changed in. We also were afforded many hours of blissful, uninterrupted campfire staring without being disrupted by social media, email or other online distractions.
The threat of bears was ever present. And not just those cute black bears that we saw in Shenandoah, but also the great big eat-your-face-off grizzly bears. I’ll be honest: much like Americans are petrified of our snakes and spiders back home, grizzly bears scare the bejeezus out of me. This fear was not diminished by all the signs around the park saying ‘WARNING: BEARS PRESENT. THEY CAN KILL. DO NOT HIKE IN GROUPS OF LESS THAN FOUR OR WITHOUT BEAR SPRAY.’ Thus, I was nervous about hiking given it was just the two of us and we didn’t have proper bear spray (we did, however, have a small pepper spray that Erik insisted I carry to go running with in the states, which I kept in my pocket during all hikes and to go to the bathroom at night. Just in case.). At the start of one hike, someone had written an ‘EXTREME’ in red permanent marker above the ‘WARNING’. Needless to say, I was on high alert the entire trek.
Despite these challenges, it this didn’t diminish our pleasure at being at the park. We loved our time in this (sometimes austere) thermal wonderland, and given Yellowstone was closing down for the season as we left, we felt lucky to see it in the snow-covered state that many don’t experience.
Oh, and the only bears we saw were at the bear rescue centre after leaving the park. Phew.