Jackson to Thermopolis: Mountain Passes, River Canyons and Soaking in a natural Hot Spring.

Miles Driven Today:    218                  Total Miles Driven: 4001

We bid a sad farewell to Grand Teton National Park this morning and began our journey towards Rocky Mountain National Park.  We are driving the journey in 3 days, roughly 200 odd miles each day.

Our route today took us north through the park one last time and then east along a fantastic highway through the mountains, Route: 26/287.  What a lovely drive!  For the first part of the journey, the road passes through and then winds above, the Bridger-Teton National Forest. The forest consists of 3.4 million acres (14,000 km2), making it the third largest National Forest outside Alaska. The forest stretches from Yellowstone National Park, along the eastern boundary of Grand Teton National Park and from there rides along the western slope of the Continental Divide to the southern end of the Wind River Range. The forest also extends southward encompassing the Salt River Range and Wyoming Range mountains near the Idaho border.  This vast forest, contains Wyoming’s highest peak, Gannett Peak, at 13804 feet, but also another 40 named mountains rise above 12,000 feet (3,700 m). The high altitudes and abundant snowfall, exceeding 600 inches (50 ft/15 m) at some locations, provides a constant supply of water for streams and rivers. 1,500 lakes also help provide water for the Yellowstone, Snake and Green rivers, which all have their headwaters in the forest. Seven of the largest glaciers outside of Alaska are located within the forest boundaries.  So.… yes…. it’s a pretty big forest all told and an awe inspiring sight when it stretches away as far as you can see in all directions.  This country just boggles the mind with superlatives.

We passed over our old friend the Continental Divide once again at Togwatee Pass, which topped out at 9655 feet.  We pulled over quite a bit to admire the views.  We were so lucky again today with the weather.  It was a brilliantly sunny, cloudless 26C by lunchtime, about 11C when we set off this morning.

I should mention our last bit of wildlife sighting in GTNP.  Just as we were leaving the park, near Oxbow Bend, a large porcupine emerged from the roadside bushes and pottered along.  I have seen them in a zoo before but never in the wild.  It always takes me a bit by surprise how big they are!  Logically, I know they are nothing like hedgehogs, but still, in my mind, I sort of visualise them to be that size, not the size of a large badger!!!   Nice to see our spiky friend anyway.

Once we were over and down through the forest, the landscape changed quite markedly to the typical rocky outcrop “western” landscape familiar from cowboy films.  Sandstone buttes, sagebrush…. outcrops…..  We then passed through an area of real Badlands. with deep red cliffs and buttes.

The second half of the journey was almost totally on the huge Wind River Indian Reservation.  This is home to the Arapahoe and the Shoshone Indians and is a huge area.  The Wind River itself had been alongside the road for a long time, gradually widening as we moved away from the Continental Divide.  We stopped for lunch at a pulloff on the reservation, part of an area that acts as a winter refuge for Bighorn Sheep.  The sheep are becoming quite endangered so there is a real push underway to stabilise the wild herds and re-introduce them to old habitats where they have died out.  We didn’t see any Bighorn sheep today but we did see a whole load of antelope along the way and also some Longhorn cattle.

At the town of Shoshone, we turned sharply north to drive through the wondrous Wind River Canyon.  This magnificent canyon takes about 40 minutes to drive through, towering cliffs on either side, the blue river beside the road.  At the southern end are three amazing road tunnels, hewn through the rock.  On the other side of the river is a little railway line, which has its own rickety tunnels.  The geology is very interesting and there are lots of notices along the way telling you about the strata visible and how things were formed.  As you emerge at the northern end the rock changes again to be the deep brick red of the Chugwater Formation.    We will return through the Canyon tomorrow and I must say I am looking forward to that.

Got to our hotel in Thermopolis, at the north end of the Canyon, at about 230.  We are staying at the Best Western Plus website/ A really lovely hotel set in a park, right beside the Mineral Springs State Park which is Thermopolis’ claim to fame.  The Main Spring is said to be the largest in the world. The turquoise and green mineral laden spring issues 3.6 million gallons of water per day at a scorching 127F degrees. The water contains at least 27 different minerals and it has been used therapeutically for thousands of years.  The waters are fed to 3  large public springs and indeed our hotel has a spa pool fed directly from it too.  The water in the spa pool is 104F.    Read more about Thermopolis here

After we’d checked in, we got our suits on and went down to the spa pool for a soak.  I must say after a long drive it was heavenly and we had it all to ourselves.  The hotel is on the National Historic register.  We can tell we’re out of the national park!!!!!  The room is about 3 times as nice for about a 1/3rd of the price!!!

Tonight we ate at a great restaurant in Thermopolis, called One Eyed Bison.  It’s clearly a popular spot.  Buzzing in fact.  Portions were massive and very tasty.  I had a burger with a loaded baked potato.  I didn’t eat the bun but the potato was irresistible.  I must be putting so much weight on during this trip!!!!!  Bob had chicken fried steak with mash.  One of his favourites as you might have gathered.  A really nice evening.  If you’re in Thermopolis, don’t muck about: EAT HERE!   Downtown Thermopolis has a charm.  An old fashioned town centre with some Victorian buildings left.