Back home now, after a week "out west" to Yellowstone National Park. To me, anything west of Minnesota is out west.
There is something about the park and the area surrounding it that I fell in love with on my first visit in 2005. Not much had changed in four years It is, after all, an evolving ecosystem that has been going on for thousands of years, if not longer. Nothing that happens in 4 years will make enough of a change to be noticed. It is just a speck of time.
The only noticeable difference this visit from the last was the tree growth along the road from West Yellowstone to Madison, Norris, and beyond. Four years ago, you could see all the way to the river from the road, all the time. This year, just glimpses, so yes, a good change had occurred.
Heading west, through South Dakota and Wyoming, it is such a stark contrast from where I live. Hundreds of miles of grassland, cattle grazing, or mountains, with very few trees or towns in between. I'm sure this is mainly just the view from the highway, as driving through North Dakota a few years back wasn't nuch different, minus the mountains. But I do know these areas aren't that heavily populated, yet people do continue to migrate west, just as the initial settlers did a couple hundred years ago.
After this, we headed to West Yellowstone, where we would spend two nights. We had no hotel reservations and it was getting late in the day, so we decided to end the touring that day to search out a hotel.
We checked several places that looked affordable, ones that I had printed out some info before leaving home, with no luck. All full or we just didn't find them. We finally came upon a place that looked pretty nice, and after checking found vacancies and good rates. I decided not to reserve for a second night because we had no set plans. Once we got to our rooms, I was glad I hadn't! The place was a step up from a dump: no working heat/air and it was in the 40s in the evening, with the night predicted to go into the 30s; no working light bulbs in the bathroom or by the beds; no coffee pot in the room, although there were cups and coffee makings; no face cloths or hand towels in the bathroom, just bath towels; no plugs in the bathroom (!), and that's just the surface. So the first night wasn't exactly the Ritz, but we made do. Asking for these things from the office was a waste of time; they were disorganized and kept telling us "maintenance" would bring the things we needed. Really? When? Because it never happened.
The next morning, when I got up, I walked across the street to the gas station to get coffee. It was cold, and their digital thermometer read 39. After the coffee, I put my running gear on and headed out to get in a short run. Running gear consisted of tights, long sleeve shirt, running vest, headband, and gloves. I told the kids this would not be a beach vacation! The kids werre up also and were going out to get breakfast and wander around town. Once I got out the door to run, I decided to scout around for another hotel. Clearly, no one was happy with this choice, other than the price!
I decided since it was Friday morning, it might be a good idea to not wait until late afternoon or evening again to find a room. I headed down Hwy. 20, westward, which also takes you to Idaho, with the border being about 10 miles from West Yellowstone. The mountains were magnificent! It was definitely cold but not windy, but I was finding myself out of breath easily. I figured I was tired, hungry, or whatever, but it never occurred to me until later when I saw the altitude sign that maybe that was the reason for my shortwindedness! Elevation was 6666. No wonder I had to walk 3 times in 30 minutes!
I checked out the area, stopping at 4 or 5 hotels. Either the rates were out of reach or they didn't have the rooms we needed. I finally tried one more place, the One Horse Motel, which looked like a mom and pop place, and was lucky to have found rooms and one available right then, meaning we could move our stuff from the dump to this place before heading back to the park. While I didn't look at the rooms ahead of time, something made me trust this place. And what a wonderful contrast it was when later we checked in.
The rooms were lodge like, had refrigerator and microwave, big fluffy beds and pillows, and a heater/air conditioner in the room that worked! Lots of other niceties as well. Of course, being a weekend, the rates were almost double what we paid at the other place, but it was worth it. And the owners were very nice!