As you saw in yesterday’s post, we recently had a great few days at Yellowstone National Park, where we spent our days watching the wild animals, admiring the incredible landscape, oohing and ahhing over the geysers, mudpots, and thermal pools … and eating.
Ah yes, the eating. Now, let’s just be clear — generally speaking, people do not go to National Parks to eat. Food service throughout the park is run by a concessionaire who does a perfectly adequate job (note my smoked trout eggs benedict from yesterday’s post!) but adequate will often be the best that can be said. This isn’t like going to France or Tuscany where food can actually be a primary attraction. But we ate well and with only one exception actually had excellent meals. We don’t eat out very often as part of our “normal” life, so for us it added a distinct quality of “vacation” to our vacation!
Since we’d done our research ahead of time (thank goodness for TripAdvisor, Yelp, and UrbanSpoon) we were armed with a list of possible places to eat, most notably in nearby Gardiner, Montana, which is only about a 10 minute drive from Mammoth. Of course, while I’d had the considerable foresight to print out my notes to take with us, anticipating limited internet access while there, it hadn’t actually occurred to me that complete addresses and/or directions would be equally useful. So we did our share of bumbling around, looking for places, but all-in-all we were remarkably successful.
On our first full day there, after our previously reported very successful breakfast at the Mammoth Dining Room, we hit the road, intending to head over to the Lamar Valley in search of wolves, bear, and moose. (And, yes, we do realize that sunrise and dusk are the best time to look for such critters, but you know … it was vacation, after all, so we worked with what we had.) A slight navigational error on our part actually sent us down into the heart of the park rather than over to the Valley which worked out fine — lots of great stuff to look at and, after all, we were there to see the park! Who cared what order we did it in. We eventually reversed our path for a bit and then headed to the Valley. The wolves, bear, and moose continued to elude us, but our up-close-and-personal bison sightings continued, and we saw enough spectacular scenery to inspire lots of oohs and ahhs, so no complaints at all.
Coming to the northeastern edge of the park, we realized it was lunchtime so did the only reasonable thing which was to drive on out a bit further to Cooke City, Montana and see what caught our eye. Cooke City was a classic “western motif” tiny tourist town and since we knew nothing of the options there (hadn’t known to check that out) we just stopped at the first one that looked interesting. While the online reviews for The Bistro (we looked after the fact, once we were back home) were mixed, we enjoyed eating fireside, air scented with wood smoke, and had great burgers with hand-cut fries. So far food was off to a good start!
The previous evening, when we were still thinking we’d just stick close to the hotel to avoid more driving, we’d phoned ahead to make reservations for the following night at TripAdvisor’s top rated restaurant in Gardiner, The Lighthouse. It was actually about 8 miles north of Gardiner in Corwin Springs, MT, and sported an entirely out-of-character nautical theme which seemed a little less odd when you read the story in the menu about the chef’s father and his nautical collection. The guy was just paying homage to his dad and hadn’t really taken leave of his senses. The menu continued the slightly split-personality character, though, with a number of classic maritime items such as clam chowder and crab cakes combined with an array of Thai and other Asian dishes, along with a pastas, burgers, and a rather spectacular grass-fed Montana raised steak.
I put together an excellent dinner from three appetizers — the crab cakes, a side salad, and bacon cheddar mashed potatoes. David’s steak and Chris’ fettucini and Osaka roll all met with rave reviews and Louise had a simple linguini with marinara that she reported was very good, too. Oh, and we’d read in one of the reviews that if you paid with cash and your total bill was over $30, you could choose a complimentary dessert. We zeroed right in on the fudge-y chocolate cake and were glad we were sharing — it would have been a killer to try to eat an entire piece by yourself! The four of us could barely finish it.
Saturday morning found us back in Gardiner at the Yellowstone Grill, famed for its cinnamon rolls, which — wouldn’t you know! — they were out of. I went for the Mediterranean omelet with spinach and feta, the fellows settled on the house-made corned beef hash and eggs, while Louise stuck with her sweet tooth and had the cinnamon roll french toast. We all left happy and headed down into the park for some geyser watching.
Since we’d all visited the park in our pasts (although in some cases as much as 40 and 50 years ago) we’d somewhat “pooh-poohed” any desires to seek out Old Faithful and like. But we all thoroughly enjoyed our Saturday of wandering around, watching nature’s amazing hot water displays — and, yes, we even got to see Old Faithful erupt. This serene pool pictured here looks like the perfect place to dangle tired legs or have a soothing soak, unless you know that the water temperature is just under boiling — well over 100-degrees HOTTER than the hottest safe water temperature for a hot-tub! (The park does a very assertive job of making it clear that NONE of the water features are safe to touch, nor is it safe to walk on the crusty ground which can crack under a person’s weight and drop you down into the molten depths. Around twenty people have died over the years by falling into the boiling waters and scores more injured.) We were very content to stay on the boardwalks as advised!
Lunchtime found us deep into the park with the most likely food options to be found at the bustling cluster of facilities near Old Faithful. The Snow Lodge sounded good, but turned out to only serve dinner and after some consultation with the helpful desk staff there, we settled on the cafeteria at the Old Faithful Lodge. This turned out to be the least successful of our meals since they’d run out of many items (including silverware for Chris and Louise who were trailing just slightly behind us in line) but in the end everyone got enough food to rejuvenate them for the afternoon. I actually had bison meatloaf which was quite good and David was perfectly happy with his roast turkey and cranberry sauce, so all was not lost. And, as promised, the dining room at the cafeteria is the only restaurant in the park with a view of the famous geyser and it helped make up for the mediocre lunch by erupting while we were there!
Back in the car, renewed after a bite (uninspired though it might have been), we finished off our touring of the park and headed back to Mammoth for a bit of rest before dinner. This was the evening of the bull elk spectacle (including ramming the RV), after which we took the back road out of town — just doing our part to stay out of his way! — and headed one last time out of Wyoming and into Montana to try out a new Mexican place in Gardiner. We’d looked for it unsuccessfully on our various trips into town so called ahead to find out exactly where they were. This proved to be a worthwhile phone call since the building actually has another restaurant’s name on it and we probably never would have found it just following our usual bumbling around approach.
Enormous plates of food were our reward for locating them and the verdict was that all the food was good. I had flautas, my standard at Mexican restaurants, and they were the first I’ve ever had that weren’t actually “crispy” so one could potentially call that a fail. They were so tasty, though, as were the rice and beans (often just a “throw-away” item) that I just pretended they were called something different and went with it.
All in all, a delightful vacation — compatible traveling partners, excellent driving by Chris, good research and travel arrangements by Louise, great meals, entertaining animals, spectacular views of nature… what’s not to like.
Oh, and you were wondering about that lunch I mentioned where David ate nothing but pie?!? Well, we’d already found out that 511 Main in Ashton, Idaho, would not be open on Sunday for our return trip, so we ended up in Pocatello looking for lunch and decided just to keep it simple and do something right off the highway. That led us to a Perkins where they offered a lunch where you got to pick three items from four various categories — soups, sandwiches, salads, and desserts. David asked the waitress if he could just have his three items from the dessert category and she, thinking he was joking, said sure. So, that’s what he had for lunch. Pumpkin pie, followed by “wild-berry” pie, finished off with chocolate silk pie. Oh, and capped off by a bite each of Louise’s lemon meringue and Chris’ apple. Makes me a little nauseated just thinking about it, but he was delighted. It seemed like the perfect finish for him to a great vacation. Me, I was happy with my cajun fish.
I’ll close with a few random shots that didn’t fit in anywhere else, plus a requisite Avila picture or two, just in case you were afraid you’d wandered onto somebody else’s blog. Thanks for stopping by!