An Off The Beaten Path Self-Guided Walking Tour of Madrid

One of our favorite things to do in a new city is to go on a walking tour. But, we don’t always just see the highlights. Nope, we like to see a few off-the-beaten-path things too, even if those things are actually on the beaten path and just ignored by most people. And, our trip to Madrid was no different.

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The Great American Road Trip — Final Thoughts

Now that we are done with our road trip, we have thoughts. Because, as you know, we always have thoughts. And, we rarely keep them to ourselves.

A bison in Minneopa State Park.

Our biggest concern when planning the road trip was how to travel safely in light of the covid epidemic. Well, it is definitely possible. But, it is difficult and not always fun. People in places like South Dakota and Montana and Wyoming act like covid doesn’t exist. Almost nobody wears masks. Outdoor dining was already closed for the season in many places (even though the weather was wonderful). We are so glad we booked AirBnB’s for the majority of our trip. It allowed us to cook at home and pack picnic lunches. But, we were desperate for a restaurant meal by the end of the trip.

A 50 foot tall horse sculpture in Porter Sculpture Park.

Our time in the parks really made us fear for humanity. People suck. We couldn’t believe how many people intentionally got too close to the wildlife. We’re talking just a few feet from bison. We couldn’t believe those same people just ignored rangers and tour guides who told them to back up. We couldn’t believe Yellowstone had to put up hundreds of signs reminding people not to throw anything into the hot springs and geysers. We couldn’t believe how many people refused to park properly (e.g., pulling in perpendicularly and taking up multiple spots). It was really depressing to realize how many people don’t care about anyone or anything other than themselves.

The Badlands.

We were last in Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Park about 11 years ago, over the Labor Day weekend. We were shocked at how much more crowded the parks were this year in mid-to-late September. The parks really need to start a reservation system to keep the crowds down. We can’t even imagine how horrible they must be in June, July and August when the kiddos are out of school.

A cute little Prairie Dog in the Badlands.

We were also shocked at how much Big Sky has changed over those 11 years. Places that were remote 11 years ago are now full of condos.

A begging burro in Custer State Park.

Coming across a traffic jam in the parks is just the worst. You know somebody somewhere is getting some sort of animal sighting. And, you know that by the time you get to the front of the line, the odds are good that the critter will be long gone.

Scenery in the Norris Geyser Basin area in Yellowstone.

We were shocked at the price and quality of the grocery stores in Big Sky. We paid $9 for a bag of dinner rolls. They weren’t even good. And, most of the meat in the grocery store was expired. It was crazy.

An elk outside Mammoth in Yellowstone.

We so don’t miss the cold. While the days were warm, a couple of mornings were freezing. We actually had to buy a frost scraper for our car in Big Sky. Not sure what we will do with that in New Orleans….

Scenery in the Biscuit Basin area of Yellowstone.

Wyoming cops were just waiting to pull over tourists. They were everywhere. And, one even followed us for a bit no doubt hoping we would do something wrong.

The Grand Canyon of Yellowstone.

Google Maps can be wonderful. It can also send you on strange dirt roads in the middle of nowhere for no apparent reason.

Scenery at the Black Sands Basin of Yellowstone.

They make some amazing craft seltzers out west. And, some horrible ones.

Mormon Row in Yellowstone.

We saw the biggest bald eagle sitting on a fence post in Montana. It was amazing. Sure wish we would have been able to get a photo.

Scenery at Lower Schwabacher Landing in Grand Teton National Park.

You know those memes going around about how Biden has caused gas prices to go up? Well, interesting trivia, the highest gas prices were all in red states –Wyoming, Montana, and South Dakota. Gas in Jackson was over $4 a gallon (when it was like $2.60 in Louisiana). Maybe it isn’t Biden’s fault after all . . . .

The Taggart Lake Trail in Grand Teton National Park.

Our middle fingers got a bit of a workout on this road trip. The number of Trump signs and anti-abortion signs is crazy.

A moose and her baby in Grand Teton National Park.

If we ever win the lottery, we are buying acres and acres of land and keeping the land wild. It is absolutely frightening to see the sprawl around Big Sky and Jackson. We can only imagine how the wildlife is being impacted. If we ever have the chance, we are going to do what we can to ensure there is space for the elk and the bears and the foxes and everything else.

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The Great American Road Trip — Hiking to the Periodic Spring

While visiting Grand Teton National Park, we chose to stay in the small town of Alpine, Wyoming about an hour south of Jackson. Have you been to Jackson? What a mess. Bumper to bumper traffic, nowhere to park, people everywhere. And, outrageously expensive. So, we took ourselves to Alpine where we found a lovely AirBnB with a fantastic porch with wonderful views of the Star Valley. Thankfully, we did, as otherwise we would have never heard of the Periodic Spring.

Along the trail to the Periodic Spring.
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The Great American Road Trip — The Critters of Grand Teton National Park

We had high hopes for wildlife spotting in Grand Teton National Park. And, we saw deer within 15 minutes of driving into the park. That sure seemed to bode well.

A deer in Grand Teton National Park.
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The Great American Road Trip — Fall Colors in Grand Teton National Park

When we booked our trip to Grand Teton National Park, we didn’t even consider the fall colors. But, we managed to hit them at their mid-point and at their peak and it was absolutely spectacular.

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The Great American Road Trip — Hiking in the Grand Tetons

Are those of us that know us sitting down? Because I am going to let you in on a little secret. One of our favorite things about Grand Teton National Park was the hiking. Yes, hiking. We’ve become quite the little hikers. Which is crazy, given that I am the biggest klutz in the world and can stub my toe in my own house. I even carry my own backpack. Of course, the only thing in it is “my” stuff — Robert carries “his” stuff and “our” stuff. Works out great for me. Not so great for Robert.

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The Great American Road Trip — The Critters of Yellowstone

So, my number one goal when visiting Yellowstone National Park was to see critters. Bears and wolves, especially. Especially bears. Well, the quest to see bears and wolves was pretty much a complete failure. We saw one bear for about two seconds on our drive into Yellowstone. And, we saw a wolf on the side of the road illuminated by our headlights at about 4:30 in the morning for about one second. Not exactly what we would call good sightings. And, as a friend told me, if there aren’t photos it didn’t happen. So, apparently those sightings didn’t happen at all.

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The Great American Road Trip — The Geothermal Features of Yellowstone

So, when you think of Yellowstone National Park, what do you think of? My mind immediately goes to wildlife. And, we saw some incredible wildlife in Yellowstone (more on that next time). But, you know what just might have been even more interesting? The geothermal features.

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The Great American Road Trip — The Lamar Valley

In the realm of stupid decisions, our decision to book a six hour guided walk in Yellowstone in September has to be right up there. First, it was 28 degrees when we started the walk. Do you know the last time we have been in 28 degree weather? Well, we didn’t either. Our blood has thinned to the point that 70 degrees can seem cold. Second, our house is basically at sea level. The Lamar Valley is over 6000 feet. What on earth made me think a six hour walk at elevation would be a good time? By the end of the walk, I felt like we were on a death march, just putting one foot in front of the other. And, finally, to make matters worse, we had to get up at 4:30 am, drive on mountainous roads in the pitch black, all while keeping an eye peeled for wildlife. Thankfully, the open range cows were all still bedded down as we drove past them, the coyote was faster than a speeding bullet as it dodged between our car and a truck going the other direction, we saw the deer in the road with plenty of time to stop, and the wolf (yes, the wolf!!!!) was a good doggie and sat on the side of the road until we passed.

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The Great American Road Trip — Rapid City to Cody

So, when we were planning our road trip to Yellowstone, I somehow got the bright idea to spend a few nights in Cody, Wyoming. Stupid, stupid girl. There isn’t actually much to do in Cody itself — at least nothing we wanted to do (the Buffalo Bill museum is supposed to be good but the whole point of this trip was to be in the relative safety of the great outdoors). I planned a stop in Cody for two reasons, both of which were complete busts. First, I had heard that the Buffalo Bill museum did bear watching tours. Wrong-o. Maybe they did one time, but not anymore. And, I wanted to see the wild horses that live on BLM land outside Cody. Sounds really cool, right? Well, the tour I contacted had no covid protections in place. None. We weren’t about to get in a bus with a bunch of other people who may or may not have been vaccinated, who may or may not have been feeling a little sick that day, and who were most definitely not going to be wearing masks. Of course, that said, the stupid hotel we booked in Cody catered to old people on bus tours who refused to wear masks so we probably should have just gone ahead and taken the wild horse tour. What is a little more potential exposure, right? And, we wanted to go see the rock paintings at Pictograph Cave State Park. But, they were underwhelming, to say the least. Faded and pretty much impossible to make out. Bottom line, staying in Cody was a really bad idea.

Three mountain goats in Spearfish Canyon.
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