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Rapid City, SD to Yellowstone - July 12-21

There's not much you can say about Yellowstone National Park that hasn't been said. It's our favorite National Park (so far . . . we haven't seen them all yet). We'd planned a week at Yellowstone, but took three days to get there, stopping for a day in Billings, MT, about half-way.

Billings: We drove through some pretty impressive lightning storms headed through eastern Wyoming and Eastern Montana. No rain to speak of, but judging by the smoke, there were some fires started. One of them came within a mile of the highway about two hours after we passed by. Mostly we stopped in Billings for decompression after everything in the Black Hills, but while we were there, we took a tour of a neat state park where the early natives had decorated some cave walls with some pictographs . Not sure why these aren't called petroglyphs. We also toured a turn-of-the-century mansion - the Moss Mansion - that was left to the preservation folks almost completely intact, furnishings and personal possessions and all. Fascinating. Wish they'd let us take pictures. Check out a few pictures of the Billings area here.

Yellowstone: If pictures are worth a thousand words each, we accumulated about a million words worth - we took over 1,100 photos in and around Yellowstone. It's a really remarkable place - the world's first national park, the remains of one of the largest volcano eruptions in the history of our planet, some 2 million acres of geology and wildlife so spectacular that most folks didn't believe the early accounts of the first explorers. We've done some serious picture culling, and we've also categorized them somewhat. We revisited so many places, trying to do a chronological report would be impossible. Thus the following four categories:

Hydrothermal: The Yellowstone basin in the most hydrothermically active place in the world, with over 10,000 geysers, hot springs, thermal vents and the like. There's a statistic that says 85% of all the geysers in the world are in Yellowstone. Most of them smell pretty bad, but most of them are also quite beautiful. We watched Old Faithful go off three times, managed to get sunburns waiting for a couple other geysers to go off (and well worth it), and took a lot of pictures of some very other-worldly things. You can check out some of our favorites here.

Wildlife: Yellowstone is the largest wildlife preserve in the US, and probably more than anything, the wildlife accounts for the huge numbers of people who visit every year - about 3 million visitors, they say. You can't avoid seeing elk and bison, but the other residents are less visible. We managed to see a few bald eagles, one golden eagle, an osprey with chicks, some mule deer (including an adorable fawn), a few pelicans, a lot of Canada Geese, some coyotes (but no pictures, darn), one Grizzly Bear (too far away for pictures, but we could see it with binoculars), several hundred motorcyclists, and a few other creatures. Try as we might, we saw no moose and no wolves. Guess we'll just have to come back. Some of our favorite wildlife pictures are here.

Scenery and Misc: Waterfalls and sweeping valleys and marvelous canyons and cliffs and some very impressive geology don't even begin to summarize the beauty of the place. Almost every turn is an "Oh, wow!" moment. We saw some neat sunsets, met two summer workers both named "Stephanie from Oregon", climbed 600 feet down into the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone to stand at the brink of the falls, spotted a fire that looked big to us, and drove almost every road in Yellowstone in both directions. We've chosen a few of our favorite pictures, and you'll find them here.

The Tetons: The Teton Mountains are unique in North America - from the east, there are no foothills - the mountains just erupt from the Jackson Hole valley floor. Teton National Park is immediately south of Yellowstone, and we spent a day there. We rode a boat across Jenny Lake and walked a half-mile up Cascades Canyon to see Hidden Falls - really neat. And along the way we were able to watch a mountaineering school in action, with some very athletic people climbing sheer rock walls. "Teton" is the French word for "breast". Legend has it the mountains were named by some French trappers who saw some resemblance to the female form in those crags. Must have been some very lonely Frenchmen. Anyway, they are spectacular, and you'll find some of our favorite pictures here.

It's a tribute to the National Park Service that they can create at Yellowstone the infrastructure to support 3,000,000 visitors a year - hundreds of miles of paved roads, dozens of restaurants, several hotels and campgrounds, and a couple hundred strategically placed toilets - and still folks come away convinced they've been "back to the wild". It's also said that if you drive every mile of every road in the park, you'll have seen just 2% of it. There is a lot of wild left out there.

This is our next-to-last travel log for this trip. From Yellowstone, we're heading home with a few brief stops - in Twin Falls ID, LaGrande OR and Portland OR before getting home around the 27th of July. We'll post our comments and pictures from that final leg of our adventure when we get home.

Stay tuned . . .