Road Trip Diary, days 3-5: In and around Yellowstone

Day 3 – Logan, Utah to Yellowstone National Park
Our drive on Monday continued up US 89 from Logan, and most of it was designated as “scenic route” on our AAA map. They weren’t lying. The road wound through the mountains, past lakes, and in and out of tiny towns (population 600), and there were times when it seemed like each view was prettier than the last. The road took us through a corner of eastern Idaho before we entered Wyoming.

I’ve never been in this part of the country before. Except for my ten years in the mid-South, which admittedly were spent in a city on Fourth Chickasaw Bluff of the Mississippi River, I’ve spent most of my life near a coast, and I’ve thought of myself as more of a “beach” than a “mountains” person. Wyoming is making me wonder about that. I don’t think it’s a place I could live, since I really don’t question my city/suburban orientation and the towns here are far too small and spread out for my taste, but it’s a lovely place to spend time.

After our bad luck at finding an open Subway restaurant during our weekend in Utah, I had promised Tall Girl that we would do our best to eat lunch at one on Monday, and since we did come across one in a small town in southern Wyoming, we were able to satisfy that pretty easily.
We arrived in Jackson/Jackson Hole (it seems to answer to either one) in the early afternoon, found some three-hour parking, and wandered around town for awhile. The central part of town is without a doubt touristy, but it’s fun. Mom-in-law and the kids went for a stagecoach ride, and we did some random browsing. We encountered a Western shop where both my husband and stepdaughter thought they’d gone to cowboy heaven, and they both came out with new hats. (Wearing the hat and boots, I swear that Tall Girl is nearly six feet tall herself.)

When approaching from the south, the gateway to Yellowstone is actually Grand Tetons National Park, and the mountains are just incredible. We kept taking pictures through the car windows, but occasionally we had to stop the car to get out for the best shots.

We reached Yellowstone itself in the late afternoon, and still had about an hour’s drive to the place we’d be staying. We stopped for dinner, and more pictures, on the way to the Lake Yellowstone Hotel, and had our first wildlife sightings – elk grazing alongside the road.
The hotel is the oldest “grand” lodging in the park, and sits right on the shore of Lake Yellowstone. It’s huge, and it’s been updated, but it has a great mix of old-fashioned charm and modern resort conveniences.

Due to the more northerly latitude, sunset is later and sunrise earlier than we’re used to, so it’s not hard to get confused about the time of day – full dark doesn’t come until after 10 PM, and it’s daylight well before 5:30 in the morning.

Day 4: Yellowstone
You can drive over 300 miles in a day without leaving Yellowstone, or even venturing far off of the Grand Loop Road that circles within the park. We made our first trip out early in the morning, hoping to spot some of the local residents out before the sun got too high, and were rewarded with several bison sightings. We also stopped at a hot spring that left our coats smelling of sulfur for awhile afterwards. We returned to the hotel for the breakfast buffet, collected our things for the day, and got back on the road.

When we arrived at the hotel, we learned that the Wednesday-morning horseback ride that Tall Paul had booked for himself and the kids had been canceled, so he wanted to check into rides at a couple of the other corrals while we made our rounds; we also wanted to see Old Faithful, but otherwise we didn’t have much planned other than a little exploring, picture-taking, and possibly some shopping.

We overheard one of the gift-shop staff at the hotel telling a guest that the park had been getting snow as recently as last week, and some of the higher elevations away from the hot-springs areas still had some pretty thick snow pack on the ground. The kids really wanted a chance to play in it – which mostly means make snowballs – but since there weren’t always good places to pull over and stop where the snow was plentiful, they were a bit disappointed.

The wildlife, on the other hand, did not disappoint. Yellowstone is definitely a place where the buffalo bison roam, and we saw plenty of them all day long. No deer or antelope, but we did see more elk – including some babies in a quad in the Mammoth Hot Springs area (which is residential as well as park land) – and had one unexpected bear sighting.

We reached Old Faithful just as it was erupting, so we knew we’d be waiting around 90 minutes for the next “show.” We staked out a good vantage point – there are bleachers stretching about 3/4 of the way around the gesyer – and watched eagerly. The eruption was a little later than expected, but after a few false alarms, it really happened. It was much quieter than we’d expected – it was prefaced by some hissing, and then sounded mostly like a fairly loud sprinkler – but was nonetheless impressive.

We arrived back at the hotel after a very long day, got some sandwiches from the hotel deli for dinner, and called it a day. I had suggested to Tall Paul that we might want to check out the night sky in this isolated setting, but darkness came a bit too late for us to stay awake for it that night.

Day 5: Yellowstone
Yellowstone is open all year long, but summer is obviously the busy season, and the park has staffed up for it; I was interested to notice how much of the seasonal staff was made up of foreign students and retirees. I was actually somewhat surprised to see how many of the visitors seemed to be well past middle age too; granted, you can see much of the park from a car or tour bus, but there can be a fair amount of walking and hiking too, so it helps if you’re in pretty good shape. The altitude has actually been causing some problems for Mom-in-law, and we all decided it might be best for her to stay at the hotel while Tall Paul and the kids went for their (rescheduled, from a different corral) horseback ride on Wednesday morning.

I decided to stay behind too; after four solid days of family togetherness, I wanted a little “me” time for reading and writing. Also, I was no longer sure that the eye-watering that started in Cedar City was a simple allergic reaction, since it was still going on, although to a lesser degree, and my left eye was actually a bit puffy by Wednesday morning. Since I wasn’t going out for awhile, it seemed like a good day to leave out my contact lenses for a few hours and see if that helped. The hotel has a huge, beautifully old-fashioned parlor/sunroom, and that looked like a great place to stake out a spot with my laptop and books. There was no Internet access, but I have Google Gears set up so I can access my documents and stored Reader items offline. (I also figured that if Google Docs didn’t work offline as it was supposed to, I could draft in Word if necessary…fortunately, it wasn’t.)

I spent most of the morning in the sunroom, working on this trip diary, finishing one book, and starting another. Mom-in-law came by later in the morning, and we had lunch together in the dining room. Tall Paul and the kids returned from their ride in the early afternoon, and then we spent a couple of hours at one of the campsites, doing laundry. We arrived between “rush hours” and the laundry room had very efficient, modern machines, so it wasn’t that big a chore; besides, there were some huge piles of snow still around, so the kids – including the biggest one – got the chance to play in it and have a snowball fight.

Tall Paul and I took our cameras and went for a walk after dinner, but for the most part our last day in the park was a quiet one. I should say last day of this visit; we’d really like to go back again.

You can see pictures from Day 3, Day 4, and Day 5 in the web albums, and here’s a taste:

<—-An arch made from antlers in a Jackson, Wyoming town park

The Grand Tetons, still snow-covered in June ——–>

<—–A molting winter-coat-shedding buffalo bison

Spring is the time for baby animals, like elk–>

<—— Famous geyser Old Faithful

Less-famous hot spring Dragon’s Mouth ——–>

And here’s where we stayed, the historic Lake Yellowstone Hotel

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  1. This is too funny – TWO of the bloggers I read every day are in/near Yellowstone on vacation right now! You should be reading each other’s blogs for sure. Here’s a link to the other one in case you want to read about her adventures!

  2. What wonderful things you got to see and do! We went to the mountains this year, but I’m putting Yellowstone on the wish list for future vacations. Love the photos.

    (Via Kiva’s link at Eclectic Granny)

  3. I’ve heard that Jackson (Hole) is very nice. And expensive. Did you see Dick Cheney running around? 🙂

    I got altitude sickness when skiing in Colorado when I was in high school. It passed after a quick break, but I was a lot younger back then. 🙂

    You didn’t go for a horseback ride? I never have and now I’m afraid to try. My bones are old and brittle now. 🙂

  4. HeatherJ – Thanks for the link to Ranger Sarah’s blog – I’ll go back and spend a little more time there. We’re actually back now – since Yellowstone is Internet-challenged, I drafted my posts but didn’t put them up until after vacation was over. These are all recaps :-).

    Vicki (Maracas) – I saw some of your Adirondacks pictures on your blog – nice!

    Come back here for my post about the Grand Canyon in a few days :-).

    Mike – If I had seen Cheney, I would have had to get someone to give me shooting lessons. Oh, wait – he doesn’t know how to shoot either. 🙂

    I skipped the horseback ride because I’m scared of horses. In some ways I’m a total city girl.

  5. Tanabata – The last two installments, including pictures from the Grand Canyon, will post next week, so come back :-)! And you can see more pictures by following the links to the albums on Picasa/Google Photos (whatever name it has these days).

  6. Yes, the Yellowstone night sky is amazing. We only got one good look at it when we were there in December, but … wow.

    And then we froze. *grin*

    No moose? They can be elusive.

  7. Susan – I’m sure you DID freeze. Nighttime temperatures in June were in the 30’s, so in December…well, I can just imagine. But the night sky arrives a lot earlier in the winter :-).

    No moose. We had heard they were hard to spot, and we just weren’t there that long. Maybe next time – we’d love to go back.

  8. I love Wyoming! It’s been a very long time since I’ve been in the state. I’ve been reading about it recently though. 🙂

    Yellowstone sounds so beautiful! I hope I can make it one of these days.

  9. Literary Feline – I hope you’ll be sharing your recent Wyoming-related reading on your blog, Wendy :-)!

    We really want to go back to Yellowstone one day – I hope you do get the chance to see it too.

  10. Hey, I followed Heather’s link over here. It’s fun to read someone else’s experiences in the same place! Having just come up from southern New Mexico, the weather is a bit of a change, and also the short nights. Since we have 9 weeks here, we’re spreading out our sightseeing, so I haven’t seen too much yet. Old Faithful, of course, and yesterday I just hiked Purple Mountain (great views!) And you are right about finding the internet being challenging! I pretty much live in the West Yellowstone library these days.

  11. Sarah – I’m quite envious that you get to spend the whole summer in Yellowstone! We found the weather a welcome change from Southern California, but yes, the shorter nights were quite different.

    Have a wonderful stay at the park, and I’ll look forward to reading more of your adventures there!