Week 34 – Yellowstone National Park to Calgary, Canada

Week 3 of our North America road trip and we’ve driven 5,589kms so far (that’s 1,753kms this week). We’ve only been to Wyoming, Montana and Alberta this week and we’ve really enjoyed the reduced pace. Last week we quickly made our way across USA trying to make it to Yellowstone National Park before it closed for winter. We were somewhat successful and managed to get one full day in the park before the snow closed the roads. I say somewhat because we originally planned on spending 3 days in the park, so we had to fly through and just stop for the highlights. I find it weird that Summer ended 21st Sept (only 2.5 weeks ago) and we’re already checking the forecasts to see where and when it’ll be snowing. Anna doesn’t think anything of it, but as an Australian I don’t get it. Snow is a winter thing! Luckily Anna thought to check the forecast before we booked the 3 nights accommodation. Especially since we were planning on staying in the park which meant we would’ve been trapped inside.

Our drive this week

We knew our day in Yellowstone was going to be a big day so we made an early start. It was a two and a half hour drive from Riverton to the park which was quite scenic as we drove through the valley and climbed into the park. We were blown away by the $50 entrance fee but that’s because you can only buy a weekly ticket and that includes both Grand Teton NP and Yellowstone. Luckily we noticed that it was only $80 for a 1 year pass to all national parks in USA so we went for that. We’ll try and squeeze as many national parks in as we can to get the value. Our first stop was Oxbow Bend which is a popular viewpoint of Mt Moran with the river in the foreground. We spent a bit of time walking around looking for the perfect angle but it was a touch too cloudy to see the mountain clearly. The river was producing stunning reflections though. Next we pushed on to Old Faithful which is a geyser that erupts with hot water every 1.5 hours. Its name stems from the fact that the eruptions are like clockwork. We had to wait about 40 minutes for the eruption which allowed us time to eat our left over Taco Salad from the night before. The huge meals here tend to cover our dinner and lunch the next day. By the time it erupted, there was quite a crowd that had gathered to see it. It looks like a giant water feature spraying water and steam 20m into the air. It was cool to see.

We headed to the Grand Prismatic Spring which is a 100m wide hot spring that has rainbow-coloured edges. Since it was cold and wet it was hard to catch a photo of the springs without the steam fogging up the lens. Oh and my glasses kept fogging up a well which was a pain –  stupid four eyes. From here we made our way out of the park stopping at various waterfalls and hot springs. We thoroughly enjoyed the scenery and wildlife, and we’re grateful that we had the chance to see it. Ideally it would’ve been nice to have more time to do some hiking and to see more sights, but seeing some was better than none. We stayed in Cody which is nothing special, but it had cheap accommodation about one hour from the park.

When we arrived in Cody we realised that we didn’t have anything planned for the rest of the week. It was Sunday night and we wanted to be in Calgary by Friday so we had plenty of time to make the journey. That was when we decided to drop the pace back and make a point of slotting in some relaxation. The only thing of real interest on the way was the Glacier National Park but the forecast showed that wasn’t possible with road closures and more snow on the way. We decided to head for Billings which is Montana’s largest city for a one night stay. It was only a two hour drive which meant that we could drive some of the Beartooth Hwy. This is listed as one of the most scenic drives in USA but we knew that half of it was closed due to snow. We made our way through the valley and then started winding our way up the mountain. On a clear day the scenery would be fantastic but it was rainy and snowy so you couldn’t see much. We almost reached the lookout where the road was closed but there was a small landslide with large rocks across the road. We decided that the BRZ isn’t the best for driving over rocks so we pulled a u-turn and headed back down. As soon as we arrived in Billings we headed for the shops because it had become apparent that I needed a winter coat. After checking out a bunch of stores we found a proper down filled coat 25% off. I’m all ready for Christmas in Waterloo now!

Our time in Billings was nice but when you only stay one night it’s hard to properly unwind. We decided to head for Great Falls but stay 2 nights so we’d have a full day to look around and to watch some trash TV. The drive to Great Falls was quite exciting as we hit several sections of snow fall and poor visibility. The BRZ has a snow mode which adjusts the throttle response, gear selection and traction control for the slippery surfaces. It seems to do the trick because we didn’t have any issues even though we have regular tyres on. Anna was very nervous but I took it very easy and allowed plenty of space. We booked a hotel that had a kitchen in our room so we were able to buy groceries and cook grilled cheese sandwiches, scrambled eggs and toast. It was nice to do some cooking and make salads. It also meant that we didn’t have to venture out in the cold at night for dinner. We went to Walmart to buy the groceries and to look for a new travel adapter after Anna’s hairdryer burned out the old one. The Walmarts in Montana are huge and are full of fine examples of white trash folk, especially around the McDonald’s outlet inside the store. I love it. Another thing we had to buy was windscreen washer fluid. Back at home we just use water but here you have to buy winter season fluid that doesn’t freeze. Again, so strange. We washed and vacuumed the car because we drove through muddy roadworks and the car was covered with road base. The best part of Great Falls was the Forensic Files marathon on TV that we watched until 12:30am. The show really wasn’t that great but it was addictive.

With two days to get to Calgary we decided to spend a night in Lethbridge which was about halfway. For the first time on the trip I was held up at the border crossing and questioned on my travel plans. I had to explain how I was able to get so much time off work and if I was able to support myself. I had to look up my bank accounts online and show that I could afford to buy a ticket home. Of course Anna had no issues, just the same as everywhere on the trip so far. She has a great combination of passports. With the drive to Lethbridge being quite short we went for a walk around Henderson Lake Park in the afternoon. It was chilly but quite pleasant to walk around. The fall colours are really pretty and the reflections of the trees on the water were nice. To celebrate our return to Canada we went to Tim Hortons for dinner and had some chicken noodle soup and a bagel.

Heading to Calgary was exciting because we’re staying with Anna’s bother Tom and his family. We stayed with them back in May when they lived in Milan but now they’ve moved to Calgary. How convenient for us – now we can score more free accommodation! The drive to Calgary was clear to start with but then we got some heavy snowfall and low visibility as we came closer to Calgary. The car was great and I’m really happy with how it handles the snow. I was nervous with having a rear wheel drive but it is very stable. The most exciting part about Calgary is that they’ve bought a dog and he’s adorable. His name is Canoush (Anna’s nephew Gabriel named him) and he’s 3 months old. We’ve only spent one night here and Anna is in love! I must admit, I’m pretty fond. He’s  adorable.

We plan to stay here until Thursday and then we’ll start making our way to Vancouver.

Anna published the September video earlier this week. You can find it here



Fail of the Week
When we were leaving the hotel in Riverton, Anna accidentally missed the driveway cut out leaving the carpark and drove the BRZ straight off the curb. No real damage with just scrapes on the underside of the front and back bumper but it didn’t sound great. Anna was a bit freaked out by it, but to her credit she hopped back in the car and kept driving.

Meal of the Week
We tried out Texas Roadhouse in Billings and it was awesome. We couldn’t believe how busy it was for a Monday night. We had slow roasted pulled pork and a mixed appetiser platter. There were leftovers which lasted until dinner the next night. Makes for cheap travelling. We’re embracing the to-go boxes.


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