The road beyond Old Faithful to West Yellowstone eventually follows the Madison River.
Even though I don’t yet know where we will camp tonight, I take my time driving beyond Old Faithful toward the town of West Yellowstone. The crew and I explore the river banks and take short hikes along the way. We pass several steaming basins, but don’t turn in to join the tourists on the walkways and observation decks. Most have a sign on the road, “No RVS, trailers, or buses.” That’s okay. I see enough driving by.
Except for one enormous bison (at a point where I can’t stop for a photo), a moose, and a few deer, most of the wildlife must be enjoying the shade of the forest during the middle of the day.
West Yellowstone on a Saturday bustles with people scurrying about searching for ways to spend some money.
The diagonal parking on both sides of the main street is full of cars. The town’s theme is western, of course, with several businesses named Stagecoach this or that. I drive up to a supermarket but there’s no place to park a van towing a trailer. One block over I find another supermarket and a closed-on-the-weekend government building next door with plenty of asphalt for the PTV and BLT to rest upon.
On the way out of the supermarket, a lady rushes up to me.
She’s intrigued by the BLT, and even more so, once I answer her questions and tell her it’s my fulltime home. It’s fun to see a person’s face light up when they see the possibilities of owning a home-on-wheels.
North on Highway 191 toward Hebgen Lake, I see a sign for Bear Hollow Campground.
I drive in and meander around the loops. Charles, the camp host, approaches my window and cheerfully tells me the campground is full. “All I have is one empty site. It’s for handicapped, but I’ll let you have it.” No, not my kind of place. It feels like a city.
I ask about Beaver Creek Campground, which I saw on the map in my road atlas. It’s on Highway 287 off of Highway 191, close to Hebgen Lake, which is a fairly large body of water. He gives me directions and adds, “It’ll be cooler there, because it’s higher up.”
Usually I research a campground online while camped before choosing it as a destination.
I’m getting tired of the road and don’t feel like getting out the laptop. Beaver Creek is in the direction I want to go (toward Bozeman and real stores, not imitation ones) and the name sounds good. Wrong! Just because a name has wildlife and water in it, doesn’t mean that’s what you get. Anyway . . .
I drive past big and beautiful Hebgen Lake and learn an important fulltiming lesson.
Small lakes are best, the ones that are too small to be drawn in blue on the map. Why? Because big lakes are more likely to be rimmed with private homes, marinas, resorts, restaurants, and such.
Expensive sailboats drift across the unbelievably blue water. Uh-oh, this might not be good. I continue past Hebgen Lake Dam, as Charles directed, and go over a mountain (which Charles, apparently a western guy, called “a little hill”), and up a winding, paved road into the campground.
I explore all three loops.
I guess I’m getting very fussy, now that I’ve camped in such heavenly places. I’m disappointed in Beaver Creek Camp. What? No water feature? The creek is a hike downhill from the campground, too far for the crew and me to walk in bear country. Oh well, it’s pleasant enough and we’ll only stay overnight. Later I walk Bridget and Spike on the paved campground roads and discover several new wildflowers. Most of the campers come back at dinner time, probably from their boats at the lake.
Paul, the camp host from Hot Springs, South Dakota, drops by while I’m eating some potato salad at my picnic table.
Bridget and Spike lie under the table while we visit. Camp hosts are wonderful sources of information, even though they often come from other locales. I ask him about the campgrounds further north on Highway 191.
“Don’t go that way, “ Paul advises. “There’s a lot of construction going on right now on that road. If you want to eventually get to Bozeman, stay on 287. You’ll go out of the high mountains across some plains. It’s a pretty drive and easy.”
“Is there any place to camp along the way?” I ask, adding that I don’t like to drive far in one day.
“Oh yeah. You go through Ennis and Norris. At Norris turn toward Bozeman — the road goes right along the river – look for river access signs. People camp on both sides of the river. It’s BLM,” he explains. “There was a really bad fire up that way, but I don’t think it’s hurt the camping.”
Hmmm . . . He must be talking about the Madison River, the wide, fast-moving, but fairly shallow stream I first saw in Yellowstone Park. This sounds interesting. Driving across some prairie will be a nice change, too.
Fly-fishing is big on the Madison River, and there are several river access signs.
I turn at one of those signs to a campground called The Palisades. If you don’t fish, it’s nothing special . . . okay for an overnight, I guess. I let Spike and Bridget out for a break and then we keep going.
Further up the highway the hills turn dark brown and black, charred from the fire. The charming Madison River, however, steadily rolls along through her green banks that support mature junipers.
This is the area Charles told me about!
My anticipation grows. I drive around a bend in the road and the river comes back into view. Wow! What’s this? The river is dotted with brightly colored inflatables carrying happy people downstream! What a wonderful way to spend a sunny, Sunday afternoon!
I’m hit with a pang of envy.
I have my own inflatable boat, paddles, and gear, but, being solo, I have no way to get carried back. I want to float! Childhood memories of summer days, laughing with my cousins as we floated down the Battenkill River in upstate New York, rush into my mind. Sigh. I continue across the bridge and up the other side of the river. Gee, everyone’s having so much fun!
“Crew, we have GOT to find a way to do this!”
A short distance up the road we enter Red Mountain Campground (BLM, $4 with Senior Pass). The burnt hills all around are dark and ugly; even the campground shows evidence of the fire. A few young trees valiantly do their best to throw shade, but it’s thin and sparse. Drab, brown vault toilets look like grumpy guards keeping watch over black metal picnic tables and fire pits. The ground is flat and covered with dried-up, tan grass.
But, hey, I don’t care about all that! What matters is. . . A RIVER RUNS THROUGH IT!
P.S. The crew and I are sitting in the PTV in the Wal-Mart parking lot in Bozeman where I have internet signal (none at Red Mountain Campground). It’s getting hot. I can’t locate the remaining photos I took in Yellowstone NP. I’ll have to add them at a later date.
I’ve read comments up to this point, but I’m not able to respond to all of them. I want to get some groceries (and batteries!) before it gets too hot for Bridget and Spike in the PTV. I hope you are enjoying my blog even though it’s lapsed into travelogue mode. I certainly enjoy your comments and miss not being online every day. Oh well, I have good reasons, right?