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 23, 2016

Traveling Pandas Tuesday – Grand Teton National Park

Grand Tetons

December 23, 2012

Wyoming Day 5 ~ Hiking in Grand Tetons

We woke up on Monday morning to the sound of bagpipes at the Fire Department across the street from our motel room. It was a 9/11 memorial service.

This was our last full day in Jackson and Grand Teton NP, so we decided to spend it seeing parts of the park we hadn’t seen yet, and hiking. Mike wanted to go back to the Lotus Cafe for breakfast, where I had delicious Huevos Rancheros and homemade bread (I specified I wanted the gluten variety).

We started out driving up Signal Mountain to the lookout points on top for some photo opps.

Grand Tetons

Grand Tetons

Grand Tetons

We stopped at Signal Mountain Lodge after we came down the mountain. I also wanted to see Jenny Lake Lodge, but the parking lot was very small and full for it, so we had to drive on by. We did stop at the Jenny Lake overlook for some more photos.

Grand Tetons

Then we drove down to the Taggart Lake trailhead, and hiked the full loop to Taggart Lake and back.

Grand Tetons

Grand Tetons

Grand Tetons

We stopped at the lake for a few minutes and rested on a huge boulder on the shore. It was flat and perfect for lying on and watching the tree branches overhead.

By the time we got back to Jackson we were starving, so we went over to another brewpub, Sidewinders Tavern, for a late lunch/dinner. I think Mike said this was his favorite restaurant we went to in Jackson. Then we went back to pack up for our move to Yellowstone.

December 18, 2012

Wyoming Day 4 ~ Road Trip to Yellowstone

I had planned to spend four days in Yellowstone since there was so much to see, even though we could only get three nights (right before we flew out) lodging. So one of the days I thought we would drive up from Jackson for the day. I planned that for if there was a rainy day, since a lot of it would be spent in the car.

It was a grey and drizzly morning, and we were still feeling the impact of our hike, so we decided to make it the road trip day. First we got breakfast at the Bunnery (yay!), and then we hit the road north to Yellowstone.

Why not get more photos of the mountains?

Grand Tetons

Grand Tetons

I wanted to see as many National Park lodges as I could, so we stopped at Jackson Lake Lodge on the way up for a short break. Although I was happy we stayed in Jackson, I’d definitely consider staying there if we go back.

Lobby at Jackson Lake Lodge.

Once inside Yellowstone, guess what we saw?

Bison

Bison

We stopped at the first sightseeing area we came across: West Thumb Geyser basin, where we were blown away by the geothermal goodness.

West Thumb Geyser Basin

West Thumb Geyser Basin

West Thumb Geyser Basin

West Thumb Geyser Basin

West Thumb Geyser Basin

West Thumb Geyser Basin

West Thumb Geyser Basin

I was prepared for the colors, since I had seen photos. But I thought they were the result of minerals in the water, which is not true. The colors are due to thermaphilic organisms that live in the hot, hot water and turn it those pretty colors.

But I wasn’t prepared for the steam and heat, and the activity. The water hissed and gurgled and bubbled. At one of the other sites, it sizzled like a frying pan on the hot rocks. For the first time, I was glad my camera had a video feature and I took short videos trying to capture the sounds.

We stopped for lunch at the Lake Yellowstone Hotel dining room, and then we headed on to the Mud Volcano and Sulphur Cauldron sites. Mud volcanoes, people! How come everyone doesn’t go to Yellowstone with marketing like that?

Mud Volcano Trail

Mud Volcano Trail

Mud Volcano Trail

Mud Volcano Trail

Mud Volcano Trail

Mud Volcano Trail

It was about this time that I started to get worried that we wouldn’t see everything in Yellowstone in the time we had. We had three more days, but Yellowstone is arranged like a figure 8, and we had spent one whole day on half of one of the 8’s circles.

In an effort to pick up more states for our 50 states goal, and hoping to be able to go a little faster than the park’s 45 mph, we looped around and exited into West Yellowstone, MT, where we got to be glad first-hand that we did not choose to stay in West Yellowstone. Then we zoomed down through Idaho, surrounded by potato fields and no cars whatsoever. I don’t know if we got back to Jackson more quickly than we would have the other way, but we definitely felt like we were going faster. We also got a chance to see the Tetons from the other side.

Grand Tetons
Definitely prettier on the Wyoming side

We went to the Snake River Brewing Company for dinner, and our hostess turned out to be our waitress from the Bunnery that morning. She greeted us, saying it was nice to see us again, and we were temporarily stunned because we had never been there before. Then Mike put it together. We got a mix of appetizers and salads instead of entrees. Even though we ordered too much, I think this was one of my favorite meals in Jackson. The wood-fired flatbread was especially yummy.

December 11, 2012

Wyoming Day 3 ~ Kayaking on Jackson Lake

We tried to go to the Bunnery on this morning, but met with a long line waiting, since it was a Sunday. We doubled back and headed to another place I had gotten recommendations for, Shades Cafe, and that was delicious. We did eventually make it to the Bunnery, too (twice!).

In an effort to recover from our accidentally-strenuous-strenuous hiking trip on our first day at Grand Teton NP, we decided to go kayaking on the second day. We drove up to Colter Bay, one of the little village areas in the park, and rented a double kayak at the marina. We were not able to resist the lure of the Tetons on the way up and back. We pulled over again many times for photo breaks.

Grand Tetons

Grand Tetons

Grand Tetons

Can I just mention how I was not at all accustomed to how the parks were arranged, with scenic areas to pull over and little villages areas near sites, and different lodges and places to stay? Now I feel like I have “Western National Parks” down, but the parks I am used to on the East Coast were nothing like it.

We also started to realize that we had packed badly, although I think that the weather there is so changeable that whatever we had packed would have been the wrong thing. On our first day there, it was almost freezing in the morning, but warmed up to almost 90 by the midday. I had brought too much that was either for cold or for hot, and not enough that could be layered to deal with cold and hot all in one day.

Kayaking on Jackson Lake

We were out for about two hours, but we went at a relaxed pace. A couple of times we pulled up to the shore and Mike got out and waded in the water. It was freezing, and he thought that it might be good for his sore legs.

Coming back, we saw bison for the first time! For some reason, I was afraid we might not see bison on the trip, but now I realize they are pretty much everywhere, especially in Yellowstone. I’m not sure you could be in the area for any significant amount of time and miss them.

Bison

Bison

Bison

After the bison, we saw another small group of people pulled over to the side of the road, including one guy with a huge zoom lens. We couldn’t see what they were looking at, though. I got out and asked him. It was a coyote in the grass. He showed me the photos he took of it pouncing on some prey, he thought probably a rabbit. My photo isn’t so detailed, since I had less zoom.

Coyote

I think it was driving back on this day that we first noticed the grey smoke over the mountains to the south of Jackson. We found out later that some idiot was burning his trash in his backyard, even though they had had an especially dry summer. The fire burned out of control, and burned for the rest of the time we were in Jackson. All of the restaurant and store employees we talked to were concerned about it reaching the town, but I think they managed to put it out by the time we left for Yellowstone. The only bad part for us was that the rest of our photos of the Tetons were marred by a grey, smoky haze, where the first two days had a gorgeous blue sky.

We went to the Lotus Cafe for lunch/dinner, which was recommended by our car rental guy. It was almost too vegetarian-friendly, the menu veering more towards the vegan and gluten-free dietary spectrum. If you know me, then you know that while I am vegetarian that doesn’t mean that I like to eat healthy. I have no plans to give up white bread, french fries, or ice cream. But everything we ordered was delicious, and we ended up going back for breakfast on Day 5. Good choice, car rental guy! Especially since I don’t think we managed to get to any other place he recommended. We tried to go to the organic grocery store he mentioned a few times, but it was always closed when we got there.