Goth Panda

April 7, 2016

Wyoming 2012 Wrap-Up

Grand Tetons

Why I Wanted to Go

This was one of the first non-necessary, just for fun trips I planned. I gave Mike a list of three possibilities: Seattle and Vancouver, a New England roadtrip, and Yellowstone. Not surprisingly, given his love of hiking and outdoor pursuits, he chose Yellowstone.

The Plan

I had originally intended to cover a much wider area and to make this more of a roadtrip, by flying into Denver or Salt Lake City. But after investigating further, I decided that I wanted to focus on Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks. So we flew into Jackson Hole instead to maximize our time. We split the time almost evenly between the two parks, with a little more time spent in Yellowstone since it is much larger.

What I Would Do Differently

Everyone gives this advice, and it is true: when visiting Yellowstone, stay in the park. The park is huge, and even when you stay in it, driving from one part to another can take up a big chunk of the day. However it can be tough getting reservations during the most popular times of year. I changed our plans after reading more about it, and called up the reservations desk at some point late in the game, asking for any consecutive 3 or 4 nights within our timeframe. Luckily, we managed to get a cabin at Yellowstone Lake Lodge for three nights, which was a little less than we wanted, so we drove up to Yellowstone from Jackson for an additional day.

We didn’t stay in the park at Grand Teton, but we did drive around and visit the lodges there. I think that’s where my obsession with National Park lodges began, because after seeing them, I wished we had stayed there. But we did like staying in Jackson, it was definitely less expensive, and we had some great food choices there.

We focused more on Yellowstone, which makes sense since there is much more to do there. But as I mentioned above, getting around in the park eats up your time and it can feel like you’re spending too much time in the car. If I were staying for a week in Yellowstone, I’d move around to stay in different locations in the park to cut down on travel time.

I liked both Grand Teton and Yellowstone, but Mike ended up preferring Grand Teton. Although there is less to see, we did more hiking there, and I think he was not quite as interesting in the geysers and geothermal springs as I was.

Bison

Surprises

I was afraid we wouldn’t see any, but the buffalo were everywhere.

We went in mid-September, so technically the off-season, but the crowds at Old Faithful were still massive. I can’t imagine what it is like in the middle of summer. However, Old Faithful was the most crowded part of the park. In contrast, Yellowstone Lake, where we stayed, was peaceful and almost deserted. There is a lot more to Yellowstone than Old Faithful.

This was my first time in the Rockies, and my first time at any significant elevation. I was pleasantly surprised I had no altitude sickness.

We saw a bunch of geysers by chance, especially Grand Geyser, which turned out to be a big highlight.

Grand Geyser

Disappointments

Our second or third day there, there was a wildfire not far from Jackson. It never reached the town, but it caused a constant smoky haze in the sky. I missed the bright blue skies of our first few days.

We were hoping to spot some grizzlies in Yellowstone, but we didn’t see any.

West Thumb Geyser Basin

Best Parts of the Trip

The amazing scenery in Grand Teton, and the unexpected sensory perceptions in Yellowstone. The photos don’t prepare you for the experience – the constant smell of sulphur, the bubbling and hissing of the water, and the explosive rush of the geysers.

We also really like the huckleberry slushies.

Most Difficult Parts of the Trip

Our accidentally strenuous hike on our first day there.

Worst Parts of the Trip

We liked staying in Jackson, but some of the touristy, faux Wild West parts were off-putting.

We didn’t see anyone do this, but apparently people throw garbage in the hot springs in Yellowstone, and it is affecting the colors of the springs. This is an American treasure, people!

We ended up having to drive to the airport from Yellowstone before sunrise, which was nerve-racking because it is incredibly dark and full of wild animals and we weren’t exactly super awake. Thankfully there were no accidents.

Overall

We’d like to go back to this unique part of the world, and we’re planning to go to Yellowstone in winter next time.

February 4, 2016

Arizona 2014 Wrap-Up

Why I Wanted to Go

Does anyone else remember this set of Disney books from their childhood? I think I can trace back my obsession with the National Parks to the America book, which was the first introduction I had to them. In retrospect, it seems clear that they were intended to make kids want to go to Disney World, but that’s not the effect they had on me. I’m pretty sure both that the reason the Grand Canyon and Yellowstone were at the top of my travel wishlist had a lot to do with these books.

Mike had been to Flagstaff many times and loves it. He’d also been to the Grand Canyon, but he had never hiked to the bottom. Since I didn’t think I was up to the Grand Canyon hike, we decided to split our time, with a few days in Flagstaff together and then going our separate ways at the Grand Canyon.

The Plan

I usually do almost all of the travel planning, but this time Mike could give many recommendations, especially for restaurants. In the end, we did some things that were new for him, like the Wupatki National Monument and Petrified Forest National Park, and some things he had done before but i hadn’t, like the Meteor Crater and the Grand Canyon.

Another unique aspect of the trip was that we split up for part of it, and I ended up spending the time at the Grand Canyon by myself. Although I’m not opposed to the idea of traveling by myself, I haven’t done it much in the past. The only times I can think of were a few roadtrips to New England to do research for my dissertation. I wouldn’t mind doing solo trips in the future, if there is someplace I’d like to visit and Mike doesn’t want to go. I definitely identify as an introvert, so spending time alone doesn’t bother me at all. I don’t mind going places alone or even eating alone, as long as I have a book to read. I felt a little weird about having lunch by myself at El Tovar, since it is a fancier restaurant than the cafeteria where I ate most of the time, but it was something I really wanted to experience, and so I did it anyway and it turned out fine.

What I Would Do Differently

I would have brought a flashlight! We also forgot one at Yellowstone. If you will be walking around in a National Park at night, even just from the restaurant or grocery store to your hotel room, it helps to have a flashlight.

Surprises

Since you go to the Grand Canyon expecting to be overwhelmed, I wasn’t sure if my reaction in real life would measure up, but it did. It also surprised me that there was a lot to do in the park. It doesn’t seem unusual for people just to drive out and look at it for a few hours and then leave, but I’m happy I stayed around for a few days. I never felt at a loss for something to do, and looking at the views never got old.

I hiked most of the rim trail, and it completely surprised me how after you get past the designated viewpoints, there are long stretches where there are no fences or guardrails, and nothing to stop you from tumbling over the edge. Another surprise on the rim trail: my first real-life sighting of a tarantula, but unfortunately I don’t have a picture to prove it. It was only when I described it to Mike’s guide and he told me what it was that I realized I should have taken a picture. At the time I was more focused on not stepping on it. I was also astounded to see people hiking down into the canyon with inappropriate footwear (think ballet flats) and no water, paying no heed to the many, many warning signs.

Disappointments

I didn’t have time to see the North Rim, but we are planning to make up for that by stopping in June.

This is the first time we flew on Southwest, and it was kind of stressful because at first we didn’t understand the lining up process, and we were worried about not getting seats together. I think if I were flying by myself, I wouldn’t mind flying with them again, but flying together, I prefer to have assigned seats. Everything else about the flights was fine.

I think my biggest disappointment was Sedona, because I had been expecting to like it more. Don’t get me wrong, the location is beautiful.

Sedona

Sedona

But other than the landscape and the views, I wasn’t very impressed with the town itself, which had a resorty, touristy feel. I much preferred Flagstaff, which has more of an outdoorsy, college town vibe. People always tout Sedona as being some kind of spiritual nexus, but I don’t consider myself a very spiritual person, so maybe that’s why we didn’t connect.

On the Road to Sedona

On the Road to Sedona (via Instagram)

We did splurge and have dinner at Che-Ah-Chi, a restaurant at the Enchantment resort that Mike remembered fondly, and that was the best part of Sedona for me.

Rainbow at the Enchantment

Best Parts of the Trip

The food! I love visiting the southwest for the food, and because it is easy to find vegetarian options.

The Grand Canyon at sunrise and sunset, which Mike urged me to do, and I would recommend to others. Set your alarm and grab your camera.

I also really enjoyed Petrified Forest National Park, which although it was not what I imagined as a kid, still turned out to be pretty cool.

Most Difficult Parts of the Trip

My trip wasn’t difficult at all, but the Grand Canyon hike ended up being much more physically demanding than Mike and Rob were expecting. But afterwards when we were back in Flagstaff, they were exhilarated and called it a life-changing experience.

Worst Parts of the Trip

This had nothing to do with the trip itself, but I had a lot of work stress right before leaving, and as a result it took a few days for me to get into the vacation spirit.

Overall

Mike wants to go back. As I mentioned, he loves Flagstaff, but he also wants to hike the Grand Canyon again, this time on a slightly easier trail and with more people. I think is one of his favorite areas of the world. We will be visiting the North Rim for an overnight stay in June, and I wouldn’t be surprised if we ended up out there again in the future. I personally wouldn’t mind going back so I would have the chance to stay at El Tovar.