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

March 21, 2013

Wyoming Day 8 ~ Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone

Our final day in Yellowstone, we had planned to spend at Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, getting some photos and doing some hiking before the long travel day back home. We had breakfast at the Lake Lodge and headed up to the canyon, which wasn’t that far away.

First we parked and got the shots everyone gets from Artist Point.

Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone

Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone

The we drove back down and parked to hike a little ways on the Clear Lake trail.

Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone
Clear Lake

There were even more geothermal areas on this hiking trail. It seems like no matter where we went, you could not escape the smell of sulfur.

We kept going around Clear Lake and somehow ended up high above Artist Point, where we got some great photos of the Canyon.

Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone

Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone

Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone
Mike, in a photo that might make his parents cringe because he is so close to the edge

We hiked down and back to the car, and drove around to Canyon Village for lunch. We really wanted to eat at the diner-type restaurant in the Canyon Lodge General Store, but there was a long, long wait. So we went more upscale and had lunch at the Canyon Lodge Dining Room, which looked straight out of the 1950s.

Fortified for more hiking, even though by this time I had almost too many blisters to count, we hiked on the north side of the canyon for a few hours.

Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone

Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone

Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone

We managed to get dinner reservations at the Lake Yellowstone Hotel for our last night, but we had to get there early. That worked out well, because we had to get up at 4:00 a.m. in order to make our flight out of Jackson in the morning. Driving through the park in the dark on not enough sleep in order to be hassled at the airport did not make for a fun day. We did have some good Mexican food in the Dallas airport, but I think I can stop the chronicle of our Wyoming trip here, on a high note. In short, we loved it and we immediately starting thinking about going back. We’d really like to go in the winter to do some snowshoeing and maybe cross-country skiing, and seeing how it all looks in the snow. Thanks for the memories, Wyoming!

March 19, 2013

Wyoming Day 7 ~ Norris Geyser Basin, Middle Geyser Basin, and Mammoth Hot Springs

So we were way behind my schedule by Thursday, and some things had to be jettisoned. We never made it back to the Upper Geyser Basin to see Biscuit Basin. We didn’t see Lower Geyser Basin or Monument Geyser Basin. There are only so many geyser basins you can take after a while.

We started out a Lake Lodge for breakfast, and then we drove to Norris Geyser Basin. And I have to say that if you only have time for one geyser basin, other than Old Faithful and its surroundings, you should probably make it Norris. Norris had a wide range of different geothermal doodads, and some of the most beautiful ones we saw.

Norris Geyser Basin

Norris Geyser Basin

Norris Geyser Basin

Norris Geyser Basin

Norris Geyser Basin

Norris Geyser Basin

Norris Geyser Basin

Norris Geyser Basin

Norris Geyser Basin

Norris Geyser Basin

Norris Geyser Basin

Norris Geyser Basin

I definitely wanted to see the Grand Prismatic Spring, so we made a stop at the Middle Geyser Basin. What I learned from this is that the best way to photograph the Grand Prismatic Spring is not by visiting it. I think there is a kind of overlook which gives you some observational height, where I saw some people taking photos. But I didn’t know how to get to it. Anyway, being on the ground level to the Spring resulted in disappointing photos, to me.

Grand Prismatic Spring - Middle Geyser Basin

Grand Prismatic Spring - Middle Geyser Basin

Grand Prismatic Spring - Middle Geyser Basin

There were other pretty pools at Middle Geyser Basin, too.

Middle Geyser Basin

Middle Geyser Basin

Middle Geyser Basin

We turned back and headed north, stopping briefly at the Artists Paint Pots.

Artists Paint Pots

Artists Paint Pots

By the time we made it to Mammoth Hot Springs, it was very late for lunch so the nicer dining room was closed. We picked up some veggie burgers at the Terrace Grill and headed out to view the Mammoth Hot Springs formations. I didn’t really know what to expect, but it was fascinating. The area looks like what you would imagine to be another planet’s surface. We didn’t stay long, but I’m glad we stopped to see it because it is very different from the rest of the park.

Mammoth Hot Springs

Mammoth Hot Springs

Mammoth Hot Springs

Mammoth Hot Springs

We drove back past Tower-Roosevelt, which was already closed. Before we got very far, we had the quintessential Yellowstone experience that we had hitherto avoided: we got stuck in a bison jam.

Bison Jam

Bison Jam

We were on the lookout for grizzly bears, so we drove back and forth several times by a stream they were supposed to frequent but didn’t see any. Another thing we didn’t do much of was animal spotting. There was a section called Hayden Valley we would drive by all the time and it was full of crowds with telephoto lenses or telescopes, just waiting for wildlife to stroll along. It seemed like you could vacation at Yellowstone to view either geysers or animals the whole time, and you would never cross paths with someone who’d made the other choice.

We went back to our cabin and had a late snack at Lake Lodge. Although it was kind of out of the way, I really appreciated staying at Lake Yellowstone. It was much less crowded than the other areas, and a lot more relaxed. It made a pleasant place to return to each night.

March 14, 2013

Wyoming Day 6 ~ Old Faithful

I was not prepared for Old Faithful. Well, I guess I was prepared for Old Faithful the geyser, but I wasn’t prepared for the huge complex of buildings surrounding it, or for the massive amount of other geysers all in the same area. And everyone who comes to Yellowstone comes to Old Faithful, so the crowds were worse than anywhere else in the park. We ended up spending most of the day here, and I had planned to see other things, too. So we fell even further behind on our Yellowstone schedule.

We said farewell to Jackson with a final breakfast at the Bunnery before driving up to Yellowstone.

By the time we arrived at Yellowstone, we were ready for lunch. We decided to have lunch in the historic Old Faithful Inn, since I wanted to see the inside. We had to wait a little bit for a table, so I wandered around taking photos. All of the bus tours stop here, so it is usually pretty crowded.

Old Faithful Inn

Old Faithful Inn

Old Faithful Inn Dining Room

Our lunch was better than I expected it would be. We headed outside, after stopping to check the next expected eruption time at the Front Desk. We had a few minutes to pass, so we walked around the geyser and tried to find a good photo-taking spot to watch our first-ever geyser.

Old Faithful

Old Faithful

Then we hiked up to an overlook and by the time we got up there, Old Faithful was geysering again. We came down and walked through the Upper Geyser Basin, looking at more geothermal wonders.

Upper Geyser Basin

Upper Geyser Basin

Upper Geyser Basin

Upper Geyser Basin

Upper Geyser Basin

Upper Geyser Basin

Upper Geyser Basin

Upper Geyser Basin

Upper Geyser Basin

Upper Geyser Basin

Upper Geyser Basin

By the time we got to Grand Geyser, which doesn’t erupt as often as Old Faithful, there was a crowd around it. Mike and I thought that might mean it was about to erupt, so we debated whether to hang around or not. I tried asking a few of the watchers, but I managed to pick the ones whose first language was not English, so I wasn’t sure they understood what I was asking. Finally I saw a ranger, and asked her.

She said, yes, it was expected to erupt soon and we should definitely stick around because it was one of the tallest, largest geysers in the world. Most of the waiting crowds, she told us, had scheduled their entire trips around these geysers.

We were sold, so we took seats among the geyser fiends. It didn’t take too long for Grand Geyser to erupt, and when it did, I was glad we stayed. It was almost like a natural, water-based, fireworks display. Towards the end, I said to Mike, “I feel like we should clap.” Some of the surrounding people overheard, and we all started to applaud. “Yay, nature!” I said.

Grand Geyser

Grand Geyser

When it was over, the geyser fiends moved on to their next scheduled geyser, and Mike and I wandered further down the geothermal path. By accident, we managed to meet up with them at the Riverside Geyser just before it erupted, too. So without even trying, we saw three geysers erupt, one of them (Old Faithful) three different times. By this time, my 8 gb memory card was full, so I took photos of Riverside Geyser on my iPhone.

We turned back soon after that, so we didn’t go all the way down to Biscuit Basin. When we came back, Old Faithful was erupting again, and we were ready for dinner. We drove over to the Grant Village Lakehouse Restaurant. We had to wait a while for a table, since it seems like everyone had the same idea, but it was nice when we did sit down. The restaurants were much better in Jackson, of course, but we ate in a bunch of different places in the park, from the cafeteria-style, fast food, and nicer restaurants, and the food was decent enough throughout. I was worried ahead of time, especially being a vegetarian, but it worked out fine. And it’s good it did, since there are no other options.

Then we drove down to the shores of Lake Yellowstone, where we had reservations at a Lake Lodge cabin. We were pleasantly surprised by the cabin, too. It was one of the recently updated ones, with two queen beds, and a nicely redone bathroom. We liked it even though – or maybe because of – the fact it was a little small, and had no tv, internet, or telephone. There were plenty of other little cabins around, and even one night a raucous party camping group, but it still felt like the middle of the woods.