2017

Summer Road Trip – Day 4

The breakfast room at the Branding Iron was bigger, but the volumes of people still make it difficult to get to the food and have a seat. I grabbed a few items and went outside to a picnic table where a couple was finishing up. I asked to join them and we chatted for a bit before they left. Yes, I can be one of those annoying people that strikes up a conversation with random strangers. It brightened my day, I hope it did theirs as well.

With a solid few days of driving and sight seeing under my belt I was feeling pretty ready to leave Yellowstone. It certainly deserved more time but that will have to wait for another day. I had my sights set on kayaking!

I had hoped there was an option to get down to the Grand Tetons without having to drive through Yellowstone but it would have been way more effort than it was worth. Fortunately I was up fairly early and we feeling confident traffic wouldn’t be too bad.

I made a straight shot from the West Gate to the South Gate, not taking time to stop for pictures until I happened upon Lewis Falls. On the way north days before I’d totally missed it, but honestly I’d missed most everything because the fog was so thick I could barely see 10 feet in front of me. The south end of the park is beautiful and not nearly as packed with people. Probably because I didn’t notice many opportunities to pull off for the views. Here is a brief video of Lewis Falls.

I made it to Coulter Bay in the Grand Teton National Park. At first it wasn’t clear to me where to find the boat rentals. Not sure why the “marina” wasn’t an obvious place for me to start but I went to the swim beach instead. Great view of the lake and mountains. No regrets.

I made my way back around to the marina and visitors center. Got a nice parking spot in the shade. It was my lucky day, despite it being nearly 11am there were still several kayaks available to rent. And as odd as it may sound, I had my own kayak gear with me (it never got taken out of the car after the move). I made a quick comfort stop, grabbed my things, then went to the water to claim my craft.

A nice young man showed me to my kayak, waited for me to get settled, the gave me a good shove into the water. Whee! I was beyond excited. The weather was great, the view was stunning. It was bliss. I paddled around the bay for a couple hours then made my way back to the marina. Here is a little panoramic video for you.

Back on land I made myself a little picnic out of the left over ribs from the night before. They were still delicious! I was thankful I wasn’t going to have to think about what to do for lunch.

I fueled up before leaving the bay with Casper Wyoming in my sites. I was hoping to meet up with a friend there but knew they had an event that might keep them busy into the evening.

Cell reception was spotty at best as I crossed Wyoming, turning from one rural route to another. Even if I didn’t have intentions of going to Casper Google assured me this was the fastest route home. It took me through some surprisingly lush farmland, and through Wyoming Beef Country. Still pretty boring but not nearly as bad as I-80.

I wasn’t going to be able to connect with my friends so I just made a quick fuel stop in Casper then hit the road for the remaining 3 or so hours home. It was surprising how few people were on the road but I certainly wasn’t complaining. I even got home in time to see my adult children briefly before they headed to bed. Another successful journey in the books.

Summer Road Trip – Day 3

Considering the lateness of my plan I feel like I got a pretty good bargain at the Victoria Inn and Carriage House in Gardiner. If you want to visit Yellowstone during the summer, best to plan and reserve early! I was a bit concerned about the “private, unattached bathroom” but it was no big deal. It was a fun historic looking house and a comfortable. Breakfast was good for continental, but the breakfast room was a bit cramped.

Gardiner is a quaint little town that has an old mining town kind of feel.

Since we planned to spend the evening at the West Gate we opted to take separate cars back into the park. The first stop was the Visitor Center in Mammoth where we took a little tour and listened to a Ranger Talk.

From there we made our way up the hill to the hot springs. Here are videos of the view from the terrace and one of the hot springs.

From there we made our way to the Tower-Roosevelt area where we stopped for lunch and to view the Tower Falls. Here are a few more pictures from the drive as well as the falls.

We had a couple abrupt stops through the pass on the way to the Norris Geyser Basin. One jam caused by a mountain goat crossing the road. I caught a glimpse of her scampering up the hillside but wasn’t prepared for a picture. Another jam was being caused by what apparently was a black bear perched on the back side of a rock. From my perspective in the car all I could see was a black puff of fur.

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The parking lot at the Norris Geyser Basin was a bit packed. You definitely see more traffic as the day goes along. There are a couple paths you can take and we took the  shorter option. One of the highlights was the Steamboat Geyser. Here is a little video of the Norris Geyser Basin from the museum.

Back to the parking lot we all got into one vehicle and made our way to the Grand Prismatic Spring. This was one of the spot I was really looking forward to seeing. The backup of traffic getting into the parking lot was large so we opted to park along the street and make our way through the a little trail in the woods to the springs.

The hot spring water rolling down the hill into the river was so unique. The different springs in the area were a lovely blue tone. I was a bit disappointed by the Grand Prismatic Spring. From ground level you don’t see a lot of the color changes and drama that are pictured in postcards. Those must be taken from an aerial perspective. It did appear there was probably a better view from the top of the hill but since we didn’t know how to get there we skipped it. Maybe next time. It was still lovely, just not quite what I was expecting.

As we wove through the trail on the way back to the car we heard a big crack and the rustling of a tree falling to the ground. We were a safe distance but you have that moment where you don’t know what was falling where.

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From there I was returned to my car and I followed my travel partners to the West Gate where we stopped off at the Visitor Center so RJ could get his Junior Park Ranger Badge.

Again we were booked in separate hotels so we checked in our respective places for the night. The clerk at my hotel recommended the Outpost Restaurant for dinner. I walked right past it because its set back off the sidewalk a bit. We were eagerly greeted by the hostess and told the special was ribs. We were not too excited when the waitress told us she thought they only had one rack left for the special but I selfishly claimed them. These had to be the biggest ribs I have ever seen. I decided it was more like the rack of dinosaur ribs from the Flintstones. They were SO good! And the portion was going to provide a whole second serving for me. We were very pleased with our meal and the service.

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My companions and I were headed different ways in the morning so we opted to say farewell for now. I was so thankful they had let me join them during their holiday and I look forward to seeing them during my next visit to Seattle.

Summer Road Trip – Day 2

I went to bed thinking I’d get up super early and go south to the Colter Bay Village to get in a kayak trip before going into Yellowstone to meet my friends. I was up early, the lack of comfort in my little cabin made that easy, but was more realistic about what I’d be able to accomplish. When I’d checked in the evening before the clerk told me it could take 2+ hours to get to our meeting point and the fear of keeping people waiting kept me focused on a northerly course.

As I got on the road the fog made it clear I’d made the right decision. It started as a light haze and got thicker as I entered the park. In a way that was good, it kept me focused on the road rather than gawking. Around the West Thumb of Yellowstone Lake things cleared up a bit, allowing for a nice view.

I was making way better progress than anticipated, probably because it was early enough not many people were on the road. When I happened upon the Mud Volcano Area I decided there was probably time for me to take a quick look around. It was other worldly with the haze that was still lingering. I was amused by the little bubbling mud pot and Drangon’s Mouth Spring.

A short while later I found myself in the midst of a Yellowstone-style traffic jam. The bison were amazing. The big guy crossing the road delayed traffic enough you could get plenty of pictures without having to bother with parking and getting out of your car.

Seeing that I was still on track to be early meeting with my friends I went ahead and stopped off at Artist Point for a quick wander around the viewpoint.

I made my way up the other side of the canyon to the Canyon Village where I was meeting the Kanegaes. Still a bit on the early side I parked, sent a text letting them know where I was, and went in to the café for some coffee and light breakfast. I opted to sit outside and it didn’t take long for my travel companions to find me.

We looped out of the village and around the bend to a series of viewpoints for the North Rim of the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone. I’ve got a few highlights for you, and a video from the Lower Falls.

We passed back through the Hayden Valley and I got some additional bison photos from a different perspective.

We parked briefly at the Sulfur Caldron. Rather than stare at the caldron I stepped the other way and snapped a few pictures of the valley. I got back in to the car and turned to Jeff just in time to spot a Bison strolling down the street.

After that bit of excitement we moved on to the Mud Volcano. The pictures look about the same as the ones from earlier in the morning so I’ll spare the space.

We stopped off at Lake Village for a late lunch, nearly too late as they cut off lunch service at 2:30pm. It is a lovely old lodge with a great views of Yellowstone Lake. Definitely a place I plan to get reservations at for my next visit.

We continued on along the southern loop making a few stops on our way to Old Faithful. From our perspective from the back of the crowd it was hard to tell if it was water or just steam rising. Pretty impressive either way.

We procured some scrumptious ice cream at the gift shop. It was totally worth the wait!

From there we looped back around to Canyon Village so I could collect my car then we made our way to Gardiner. A few pictures were safely taken using a selfie stick along the way. Clearly my focus was not on getting the best pictures, but some of them turned out nice. For reference we took the route directly north from Canyon Village to the North Entrance via Tower-Roosevelt as there was construction on the shorter, western leg.

We weren’t staying at the same hotel so I stopped to check in to my hotel, drop off my things, then meet my travel mates at their hotel. I’d been told they had surprisingly good food and I was not disappointed.

Everyone was pretty wiped out after all the distance we had covered so we confirmed our plan for the morning departure and said good night.

Summer Road Trip – Day 1

In all my 44 years of living relatively close to Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks I’ve never visited the parks. Friends from Seattle were planning a family road trip and invited me to join them, an invitation I gladly accepted.

My planning ended up being very last minute and options, particularly affordable ones, were limited. Rather than wake way before dawn to meet my friends at the park, I took a half day off work and found a cabin bunk at the Grand Tetons Headwaters Lodge.

It was about 7.5 hours of driving through Wyoming. I didn’t find many photo opps along the way, probably because I’ve made a good portion of that drive on several occasions and find that part of the state pretty boring. As I got closer to the park the scenery improved but the weather turned a bit stormy.

I arrived at the campground about 8:50pm. I was in a bit of a panic when I found the office dark but the sign said they were open until 9 and the door was unlocked. Of course there was no cell reception. I assumed someone would eventually be back to lock the door. Moments later the clerk returned and apologized for needing to step away briefly. Whew!

I was all set for a quiet, electronics free evening. Sadly the cabins sit along a roadway. While it wasn’t as noisy as home, there was still more noise than I was expecting. I did quite a bit of tossing an turning, but I think it had more to do with my excitement than the conditions.

 

Sedona and the Grand Canyon

January 30 – After spending an exciting weekend in Phoenix with business partners talking about travel and leadership I opted to spend an extra day in Arizona to see the Grand Canyon.

I was up super early so I could get across town to connect with the tour bus. I caught glimpses of the desert sunrise as we made our way to Sedona. I was tempted to nap but our driver, Wayne, was pretty chatty and the scenery was pretty.

Sedona was as beautiful as I’d been told, but cooler than I had expected. Fortunately I’d read enough about the tour to know there can be a 30+ temperature difference between Phoenix and the Canyon so I had packed a jacket.

The bus dropped us at a coffee shop for a comfort break. Coffee and a sack lunch in hand I went for a little walk hoping to find an angle that would give me a nice view of the rock formations without the sun glare.

From Sedona we took a spectacular scenic drive through Oak Creek Canyon. It was covered in a nice blanket of snow from a storm that had gone through a few days earlier. We carried on through Flagstaff and made a brief stop at the Cameron Trading Post on the Navajo Reservation. Along the way I attempted to take some pictures of the Painted Hills but they don’t do it justice.

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My first glimpse of the canyon was as awe-inspiring as I expected it to be. Talk about a seat with a view.

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We stopped at several viewpoints on our way to the Grand Canyon Village. Each with its own unbelievable view of the canyon. It was hard to grasp the enormity of it all.

The view at the village was nice too, but I found the other viewpoints far more interesting. For reference our tour entered through the East Entrance of the South Rim, toured West for ~25 miles to Grand Canyon Village.

From the village we made our way back to Phoenix. It was a long day but certainly worth the time and effort.