Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Road Trip: Grand Teton

If I had to use word association for this trip, I'd say Badlands = vast, lonely, fierce; Yellowstone = science, move, cool; Grand Teton = beautiful. Like so beautiful it hurts your soul a little bit. Grand Teton seemed to be less about the see and more about the be. It was for us at least.

By the time we left Yellowstone, I was ready to relax. Maybe it was because we didn't have as much on the agenda here, or because we spent the first day basically eating and lounging simply because we were too beat for anything else. Or maybe because I had it in my head after reading Trip Advisor that many people retreated to the Tetons to just be after tearing ass around Yellowstone.

Fall was much more apparent in the Tetons than it was in Yellowstone, and the atmosphere in general was very laid back. It was a nice coasting ride into the park. 
Fall splendor entering the Tetons, lunch at Jackson Lake Lodge, a stop at Chapel of the Sacred Heart
Our place to just be was Signal Mountain Lodge - I did a lot of research and am so glad I chose this one. We had lunch at Jackson Lake Lodge and were in the Jenny Lake Lodge area and none of them had better views than we had or proximity to the lake. Signal Mountain had a great down to earth vibe.

I really loved the staff at Signal Mountain Lodge, the rooms themselves, their commitment to sustainability, the food in the Trapper Grille (we ate there for two dinners, a lunch, and a breakfast), and the toiletries, believe it or not. I ended up hunting them down online and ordering them. The room was pricey for my standards ($374/night), but it was for our anniversary and it was worth it. I'd save up to stay there again in a heartbeat.
Thursday morning we took a scenic cruise ($70/PP) on the Snake River run by guides from Signal Mountain. Chris was informative and funny. We were on the cruise with a couple of ladies from Kentucky who were smart and witty and a retired guy from Long Island who was a freaking forensic scientist when he worked. I tried to keep the CSI/Criminal Minds questions to a minimum as he was out trying to enjoy nature and not discuss dead bodies, but I couldn't resist a few. He did say Patricia Cornwell has it pretty realistic. Anyway great group, lots of conversation, plenty of laughs, and phenomenal views.
After that, MFD suggested we do a little hike. We ended up taking the boat across from Jenny Lake and hiking up to Inspiration Point. We are novice hikers. I thought I'd die on the way there. But we did it, and we made the boat back by the skin of our teeth. It was exhilirating and really tiring. I took zero pictures the entire time but MFD snapped a few. At least the views were really beautiful when I had to pull over and rest every 50 yards. High altitude is no joke. I don't do well in it. I loved how I felt at the bottom though - loose and on a natural high.
Boat ride over / me at the top of Inspiration Point / Jenny Lake
We tooled around after that, stopping at overlooks to marvel at the grandeur of the Tetons from all angles.
We headed out of the park to get to Mormon row. The infamous barn roof is under construction as you can see in the first shot. Can you imagine settling in the backyard of the Tetons? Yeah this spot looks good.
We ended the day by driving up to the summit of Signal Mountain. Wonderful views of the valley and glimpses of the sun setting behind Grand Teton.
And saw this show back at our room:
On the way out we stopped at the Menor homestead and saw a moose! MFD almost crapped his pants he was so excited. I had tears as we were leaving. I was just so grateful for everything on the trip, and to end it in a place of stunning natural beauty was just the absolute icing on the cake.
Last photo bottom left - Moose! Directly next to that is the cabin where Grand Teton National Park was voted into conception, and the rest of the photos are Menor's Homestead

The Dirty Details: 
Days 7 & 8: Grand Teton
Hotel: Signal Mountain Lodge Upper Lakefront Cabin ($374/night tax included)

Day Nine: Teton checkout and day in Jackson
Hotel: Elk Refuge Inn ($207/night)

I definitely expected things in Teton and Jackson to be further apart based on how far things were in Yellowstone. That was not the case. We definitely could've stayed another night at Signal Mountain and made our way to the airport relatively easily, although it's a little less of a straight run than it was from Jackson. It is also definitely feasible to stay in Jackson and go to the park each day without missing much in terms of drive time.

All posts in the Road Trip series:
Badlands, The day we saw it all, Little Bighorn & Beartooth Highway, Yellowstone, Grand TetonJackson Hole

If you've read the road trip series all the way through, thanks for traveling along with me. If you're considering any portion of the trip and would like to discuss hotel or money particulars, let me know. I am going to do an overarching National Parks trip blog about things that were important for me to know or things I didn't know and wish I did sometime in the future, so look out for that.

MFD tagged me in a post with this quote on Facebook, and it can sum up this trip perfectly:

“The wish to travel seems to me characteristically human: the desire to move, to satisfy your curiosity or ease your fears, to change the circumstances of your life, to be a stranger, to make a friend, to experience an exotic landscape, to risk the unknown.” ― Paul Theroux 

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Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Road Trip: Yellowstone

If this was a travel blog I could easily write a simple and clean post every day for a month straight on Yellowstone and still not run out of material. For the past week I've dreaded writing this post and with good reason - as you will see below, it lacks cadence. I should've written it when we were there, because now that we're back I lack the time and discipline as a writer to describe the experience in words.I don't feel like the pictures I took were adequate enough to really show what it was like in front of my face, so I actually didn't take as many photos as I thought I would. I will use what I have to share trip snippets.

There are some things in life that should just be lived, and this leg of the road trip is one of them. How many times can I say it was cool or amazing? Infinity. If you get a chance to go to Yellowstone, please go to Yellowstone. It was the coolest and most fun science class I've ever been to. Sometimes I looked at what was in front of me and wondered if I was still on earth or if I slipped onto another planet.

The days were long and full but the daylight hours seemed to have a fluidity and rhythm that allowed us to do and see more than I thought we'd be able to. Yellowstone seems like the type of place that you could go to every day of your life and never discover everything there is to discover there. You have to be open to receive the gifts of the universe that are in front of you  - the fleeting glimpse of a wolf far off in a field in the late afternoon, a mule deer eating quietly to your right in the early dawn - and let the day happen.

Here are some of our happenings.

Northeast Entrance/Lamar Valley
We drove in this way under a sky so pretty it looked fake. MFD got in with some wolf watchers immediately in the Lamar Valley. It felt like such a different world already.
We drank strong coffee and watched the sunrise over the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone. We marveled at the upper and lower falls and delighted in finding an artist painting at Artist Point.
On the ride from Canyon to Mammoth, we passed the Calcite Springs and pulled over further on for a little hike. We split up on the path so I could indulge my obsession with photographing the dead trees and MFD could read every plaque along the way. It was before noon and the sun was warm. We were surrounded by nothing but air and sky and intense quiet. And a herd of buffalo.
We drove out through the Northeast Entrance to see the Roosevelt gate under construction. We wound along the Gardiner River on the way back and parked to take it in.
We also saw the 45th Parallel.
The Travertine Terraces rose before us like something out of an ice age Star Wars.
Hotel rooms in Yellowstone have no TVs. So our nightly entertainment the night we were in Mammoth was the elk rut. I sat in the middle of a field at a picnic table. I had to dodge eight tons of elk poop to get there. As I watched the Bull elk charge cars and people who were too close to him, terrorize other males who tried to enter his territory, and screw all the females in the vicinity, I felt like I was in the middle of an animal soap opera. When they say step cautiously around buildings in case wildlife is in the area, they definitely mean the Mammoth cabins we stayed in.
Just south of Mammoth on the way to Norris we saw The Golden Gate (rocks that make up the canyon walls shimmer like they have gold in them) and the Hoodoos (massive boulders that are pieces of a mountain that have fallen over the years).
Norris Geyser Basin and the Paint Pots, where we encountered our first tons of steam. We attempted to walk over to the Obsidian Cliffs but a tatonka didn't want to allow us to pass.
We took the Firehole Canyon Drive to see the beautiful Firehole River and Firehole Falls. MFD climbed down to the rapids, of course. I sat at the top taking photos and idly wondering what I should do if he fell in.
This is what I came to see. Grand Prismatic Spring in the Midway Geyser Basin. I must have taken 100 pictures here. It was like seeing an oasis and is definitely the coolest thing I have ever seen in person. It looked different every time the wind blew. It was mind blowing. If I could've seen nothing else in Yellowstone aside from this, I would be okay with that.
Old Faithful
If you go, make sure you go in and look around the Inn. It's pretty cool. By the time we got here, I ran out of steam on the day and wasn't looking forward to the 1.5 hour drive to Lake for the night. We  had lunch in the Dining Room with 800 tour bus people, then did a little bit of walking around the OF Geyser Basin, but not too much. I think I may have said how many times can I stand and wait for geysers to blow today? Old Faithful is going off on the first photo below. We stood in the back to watch it and it was awesome and not crowded. The picture of the buffalo in the front of it is where you'd see it from one of the crowd areas.
MFD hit his head quite hard on the wooden horn on the bottom right on his way into lunch. That's what you get for walking while looking at your phone.
For those of you who like video, here's Old Faithful:

After a 1.5 hour drive and a room change, we found ourselves dining with a view at the Lake Hotel, which is definitely the most civilized accommodation in Yellowstone. We thought it was too stuffy. I did enjoy my first half hour of alone time during the trip and it was bliss.
After sunrise on the lake and a proper breakfast, we stopped at LeHardy's Rapids on the Yellowstone River.
Mud Volcano area...I freaking saw mud bubble in the earth. It was totally awesome. The insane smoke is what I think broke my camera, prompting a roadside shitfit after I took the last two photos in the bottom left.
Luckily MFD had a shitty old spare camera with him so I wasn't totally screwed. We carried on through the Hayden Valley, spotting wolf along the way, and wound back to Sulphur Cauldron and ended up in the Fishing Bridge area for lunch.
The rest of the day and sunrise time the following morning was spent just being at Lake Yellowstone. We were down at the Lodge end and it was pretty deserted.
Forgive my inability to do right by you in writing, Yellowstone. Thanks for seeing us out the south entrance with Lewis Falls.
The Dirty Details
If you are contemplating a National Parks Trip - be prepared to book and put deposits on rooms IN Yellowstone a year in advance if you want rooms in the park. All Yellowstone lodging options can be accessed via this site, but you should call and talk to them. They're nice and really helpful. Things in the park are farther apart than you think they are. 

Day 3: Drive from Sheridan, WY, stopping at Little Bighorn. Take the Bear Tooth Highway into the Northeast entrance of Yellowstone. About 1.5 hours to the hotel from the entrance.
Hotel: Canyon Lodge Western Cabin ($194/night)

Day 4: Canyon to Mammoth via Roosevelt. Out the North Entrance to see the Roosevelt Arch and check out Gardiner, MT;  Mammoth Hot Springs (45th Parallel, Boiling River, Travertine Terraces)
Hotel: Mammoth Hot Springs Cabin ($173/night)

Day 5: Mammoth down to Norris - Norris Geyser Basin. Madison - Grand Prismatic Spring. Old Faithful Area. About 1.5 hours to Lake from Old Faithful.
Hotel: Lake Hotel ($221/night)

Say 6: Yellowstone Lake, Hayden and Pelican Valleys, Mud Volcano, Sulphur Cauldron, Fishing Bridge,
Hotel: Lake Lodge Western Cabin ($221/night)

Day 7: Exit Yellowstone through South west entrance (see Natural Bridge, West Thumb Geyser and Lewis Falls on the way out) into Grand Teton.

Other Road Trip Posts: Badlands, The day we saw it all, Little Bighorn & Beartooth Highway

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Monday, October 5, 2015

TWTW - the one with the baby stuff

Did you guys hear the angels singing on Friday morning to herald the arrival of my niece Lola Jean? She's pretty and snuggly and precious and all around too perfect for social media. MFD and I rushed off to see her Friday night after work. 
Since Lola's Friday arrival was likely, I moved my grocery delivery from Friday night to 6 a.m. Saturday morning. Why is Peapod always late except when I schedule a 6 a.m. delivery? Since I was up I went to see my niece again for some one on one time, picked up the dogs' Halloween costumes at Target, and came home to do some food prep - a double batch of power breakfast muffins and chicken bacon rice soup for Saturday dinner and this week's lunches. I also made a cherry pie. Hashtag not a baker. 
I started a new book and we watched Cowspiracy on Netflix. At first I thought it was another one of MFD's bizarre television programs but it turned out to be really interesting and thought provoking. 
I did not want to get up Sunday morning, but alas there was adulting to be done. I made a triple batch of turkey burgers with spinach and goat cheese and hard boiled eggs. This week's breakfasts are multi-grain english muffins with PB and a hard boiled egg for breakfasts; soup and carrots for lunch; apples for snacks; turkey tenderloin with steamed asparagus and mashed sweet potatoes and salads for dinners. 
Michelle's baby shower was in the afternoon, it was a lovely day with fun ladies and good food and a little bib painting. Debbie's bib makes me laugh as it was supposed to be poop happens but spacing didn't happen and it became poop happy complete with emoji. I can't wait to meet Michelle & Bob's little girl!
After that I took some of the power breakfast muffins and turkey burgers over to Stephen & Aubrey's to kiss on my niece for a few minutes.
And of course, these three...they would not go outside in Friday's monsoons. Mae was a grouch all weekend because she was cold, Gus was pissed because I wouldn't let him eat the candy for Michelle's shower, and Geege was his best boy self as always. 

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Saturday I shared another day of our road trip, Little Bighorn and the Beartooth Highway. Click here if you missed that. 

Tomorrow I'm going to attempt to chronicle Yellowstone. Today I'm wishing the fabulous Aunt Carrie a very happy birthday. 

Meanwhile back at the ranch more than half of what I wanted to get done this weekend remains not done. I could use another weekend day. How about you?

Tell me something good about your weekend! 

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Linking up with Biana at B Loved Boston for Weekending

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Road Trip: Little Bighorn and Beartooth Highway

As evidenced yesterday, things don't always go as planned on the road. That's why there are so many life on the road songs, right?

The Almighty Itinerary indicated we should be heading toward Yellowstone by 6 a.m. Instead we had a Continental breakfast at the hotel surrounded by cowboy hats (enjoyable) and Fox News on the common room TV (not) before getting on the road around 8:30. We quickly found ourselves in Montana, saw signs for Little Bighorn, and after consulting the GPS MFD pulled another wildcard.

I'm glad we stopped even though I have major white man guilt over what happened to the Native Americans in their country.
As you might imagine, it was solemn and quiet. Especially up on Last Stand Hill where Custer went down.
When I first saw the cemetery, I was thinking holy shit I didn't think this many people died here. And they didn't. Google tells me that the graves in the cemetery at Little Bighorn are known and unknown veterans of this nation's wars, as well as women and children from isolated frontier posts, Indians, scouts, and Medal of Honor recipients. The graves at the top of the hill are the 7th Cavalry men who died there. There's also a few stones for the horses, which existed long before the Indian Memorial. Really? Yes, really. The Indian memorial was not opened until 2003.
The bottom right photo above is Last Stand Hill from the Indian monument. Not many people walked into the circular Indian monument that blends a little into the land. I'm glad we did. It was my favorite part.

Back on the road, we stopped for supplies in a Walfart in Billings. We should've gone another exit down because that one was a) the exit we needed to take to get to the Beartooth Highway and b) less fucking insane at noon on a Saturday.

Some of my required supplies: bear box for food, food that travels well, travel coffee mugs because I forgot ours, a small bag cooler, and a $15 coffee pot. Worth it. The coffee in Yellowstone was hit or miss, and the rooms we were in that did have a small Keurig supplied decaf K-cups. Say what?

The Beartooth Pass. I would like a t-shirt that says I Survived Driving the Beartooth Highway. Or one that says We Survived the Beartooth Highway Because I Drove Instead of MFD. Those of you who have driven with him know what I'm talking about. Support group forms to the left.
The Beartooth Highway is a 68 mile trek.  It starts just south of Red Lodge, Montana (elevation 6400 feet), rises to 10,947 feet at the Beartooth Pass Summit in Wyoming, and ends near Cooke City and Silver Gate, Montana, at 7,500 feet.
two sides of the same sign
While it's only 68 miles, the switchbacks and hairpin curves make for some slow going. This boring video shows some of that along with the snow that was evident as we climbed:

It was closed due to snow and ice on Thursday, open on Saturday when we took it. It is hands down one of the most beautifully scenic drives I've ever been on. It is also hands down one of the most crap your pants driving experiences I've ever had. I was extremely woozy at the summit due to the elevation and also freezing my ass off but elated by the views. I forgot that I also had to drive down which was no picnic either. Luckily I had my big girl pants on and dealt with it...punctuated of course by many oh shits.
Other Road Trip posts: Badlands, The day we saw it all

Up next: Yellowstone

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Friday, October 2, 2015

Road Trip: The Day We Saw it All

One of my favorite photos from the trip
Tooling around South Dakota and Wyoming, I felt the spirit of America out there. Not the politics or the government or the bullshit - but the beauty of the land that America the Beautiful describes in its lyrics, the old and true wisdom of the Native Americans, and the spirit of the frontier - the enterprise, the work, the cunning, the determination. It was like sitting next to the heartbeat of America. I kept imagining what I'd think of the news out of the big cities if I grew up there, and I couldn't really wrap my head around it. But that's a post for another time.

Both of us were astounded by the beauty of South Dakota, Wyoming, and Montana. I guess it's just not something we think about much over here on the east coast, but the landscape we saw on the road for 10 days made my heart swell. Simple and complex, vast and empty, mountainous and flat, stark and open, so many different kinds of beauty.

Every time I plan a trip, I need to account for some MFD wild cards. This trip was no different but this day stretched us. The original plan was to leave the Badlands, see Mt. Rushmore and Crazy Horse, and drive about 3.5 hours to our hotel for the night to get a good rest before getting up early and getting to Yellowstone. When I do my itineraries, I estimate times we'll spend in places and use Google maps to see how long travel will take. Here's the story of how this day went down much differently than planned.

We left the Badlands a few hours earlier than anticipated but had to stop by the side of the road so MFD could work where there was cell service a few times. We got to Mt. Rushmore in about the time we thought we would (2 hours from the Badlands) and spent about 20 minutes in there. You really don't need more than that unless you hit it at night, when they do a ceremony and light that baby up.
While we were on the way to Rushmore, MFD got a wild hair up his ass to get to Deadwood. I was all what the hell is in Deadwood? but said okay, this is what road trips are about - side trips off the route. We figured out the route and proceeded to Crazy Horse from Mt. Rushmore. It's right down the road, not even a half hour away. If I had to do this again, I would've photographed it from the side of the road, which you can absolutely do. We wandered in the little museum (lots of contemporary pieces in there, not old stuff) and were out in about 15 minutes.
We proceeded on to Deadwood, which took us about an hour and a half from Crazy Horse with a few stops. We had to take in the beautiful Black Hills of South Dakota a little bit. The drive is so pretty it doesn't even feel long. No drive out there feels long in the daytime, there's so much to look at as you're driving.
Pactola Lake, Black Hills
We arrived in Deadwood to the entire town under construction, it seemed like. It was a dirt road all the way in. We paid $5 to park, walked through some buildings, and came upon a fake looking Main Street. No wonder it's fake, the town has burnt almost totally to the ground and been completely flooded since its inception and had to rebuild both times. We did a tour in the Number 10 Saloon where Wild Bill was shot and killed. It was so awkward, just a few of us in a basement room with one of the workers telling stories, while wearing a corset costume, seemingly reluctantly.
We wandered around town for a little and got some coffee, but it felt sad there. Like a lot of drinking and gambling and pretending to be old west sad. So we headed back to the car.
MFD pressed ahead with another wild card: Devil's Tower. An hour and a half from Deadwood, it was worth it. The light was perfect and you could feel that it is a sacred space. We spent some time here, walking up to the lookout to see the valley. It was awesome.
HOWEVER...when we got down and out, it was like chasing daylight. It was over 2.5 hours to our hotel. We saw open road and the sunset on the side of nowhere, Wyoming.
We stopped at Hertz in Gillette, WY, to add further collision to the car because good Lord the animals out there in the pitch black night. This relatively short drive felt like it took forever. I had the wheel in a death grip and was afraid to do the 80 MPH speed limit because I couldn't see jack shit. It literally felt like we never got any closer to our destination. When we finally did arrive, I made MFD go inside and just had a moment alone out in the parking lot. Sometimes you need a few deep breaths - harder to get in the higher altitude - and a minute alone.

We hadn't eaten lunch or dinner, so we ended up eating vending machine food in the hotel room at 11 p.m. That's life on the road, man, when you're in a hurry to see see see and forget to eat. That was the last time we made that mistake.

The dirty details - if you'd like a full trip itinerary, please comment below or email me at
Day 2: Badlands, Mt. Rushmore, Crazy Horse, Black Hills, Deadwood, Devil's Tower. Continue on a few hours into Sheridan, Wyoming before calling it a night.
Hotel: Hampton Inn Sheridan in Sheridan, WY ($137/night using AAA rate)
See Roadtrip: Badlands National Park 

Up next: Little Big Horn and the Beartooth Pass into Yellowstone

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