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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  1. I pretty much love the fact that there are no tvs in the hotel rooms in Yellowstone. Is that for real?! That's awesome. Seriously.

    The Travertine Terraces - good god, I don't ever think I've seen pictures of those. Amazing.

    And the Grand Prismatic Spring? I just keep thinking "and these are just pictures...what the hell does it look like in person?!?!"

    Great post & wrap-up.

  2. I think I'm going to have to reread this post like 10 times to fully grasp everything you did! The Grand Prismatic Spring looks incredible. It's never really been on my radar to visit here but after this post it really is! xo, Biana - BlovedBoston

  3. Wow these photos are so amazing!! This sounds like the trip of a lifetime!!

  4. YESSSSSSS this is the post i've been waiting for and i drank it all up. amazing; truly amazing. i literally stared at those photos of the prismatic springs you posted on IG and this here blog for like, 5 minutes because they're so breathtaking. you are so lucky to have visited here; it's def one of my places to visit.

    ps - elk are assholes.

  5. Those pictures from the midway basin are AMAZING. I've never seen anything like it. Fun fact: after my first email blast while studying abroad, my grandma's neighbor emailed me and said, "amazing has many synonyms. Try using some of them." OOMPH. This trip is ANAZING. Beautiful views. I kind of love the hotel without TVs.

  6. It's all beautiful, but especially Prismatic Spring. I have a dumb question, though - how did you fill your days in Yellowstone? Is traveling from one location to another (via car? on foot?) the bulk of the day, did you do a lot of hiking, do you just sit in awe and wonder of the beauty? I am loving virtually visiting these parks with you!

  7. These photos are breathtaking! Yellowstone has just risen on my list of places I MUST go see.

  8. Do they have limits on Old Faithful? It always seems like no one is there & I'd think itd be a huge tourist attraction.

    Sorry - I would want to go hug the Elk :)

    Side note - your blog is the only blog I visit that when I go to comment, the box disappears??!!?!? ... I have to go open up Google Chrome & it works fine there - but not in Internet Explorer. Anyone else ever tell you that? It happened at my work computer & my home computer. Just FYI

  9. So awesome... I think you did Yellowstone proud with your post ;) The pictures are phenomenal, I cannot imagine seeing this all in person and just being able to take it all in. Did your camera kick it for good? Or were you able to salvage it? I'm glad you had a spare at least!!

  10. Each time you posted a pic on IG I shoved my phone in Justin's face and proclaimed WE ARE GOING TO YELLOWSTONE. So, so magical. Thank you for taking such wonderful pictures!

    Also, I truly love that both of our vacations involved breeding elk.

  11. Everything about this is awesome! I've only done Yellowstone once, and we went in the winter and had to be snow-catted into the park. We stayed at the Old Faithful lodge though which was cool. I really want to go back in the summer time when everything isn't covered in snow and steam. Such amazing photos!

  12. I have never thought about going to Yellowstone, didn't think it was my jam but you have 100% convinced me what an idiot I am. this looks absolutely amazing, and KC would lose his mind over it all. meanwhile, the elk look absolutely terrifying. thanks for the tip about booking a year in advance!

  13. I hadn't previously heard of the Grand Prismatic Spring before you trip, it's on the top of my list of shit to see without getting on a plane or a boat!

  14. Absolutely gorgeous pics and girl you definitely did Yellowstone justice! And LOL at the animal soap opera and Old Faithful... I remember she wasn't very "faithful" when I was there either as we waited forever. I remember being astounded by how huge the park is, I wasn't prepared for it to be that huge and so breathtaking <3

  15. What breath-taking views and scenery! The spring in Madison looks crazy!!

  16. I am embarrassed to say that I had no clue that Yellowstone had so much to offer. I am not really nature/outdoorsy but this....this is a trip I could get down with. Your pictures are incredible!!!! Such amazing scenery.

  17. Gorgeous! I hope you get to enlarge and print out some of the pictures you took because they're so beautiful. I really liked the Old Faithful video. That would really be so awesome to see it in person!

  18. Beautiful photos - looks like a stunning place that I have to visit. Thanks for sharing. - Svetlana @Life With a Side of Wine

  19. Madison looks bad ass! I'd never heard of that before... how is it like that?????

  20. It feels so redundant to keep commenting how beautiful this trip looks...but for real, HOW BEAUTIFUL! If we ever make it that way, I am glad to have some recs on places to stay too.

  21. The Grand Prismatic looks breathtaking, so many pretty colors. I love that they don't have TV's so you can focus on what is around you.

  22. the pictures don't do it justice, but they do help remind me of the mental pictures I took while there :) I wish we would have spent more time in yellowstone. The things you guys did... it's incredible.

  23. That is such a bummer that your camera broke, but everything else about this post is amazing. Those pictures look like postcards. Unbelievable. I need to get myself out there.

  24. These pictures are amazing! I've always wanted to go to Yellowstone, but didn't realize how much there is to see. And it's sad to admit that Nolan probably knows more about Wyoming and Montana than I do thanks to all his paleontology and geology books. (BTW, last spring he made up a song about "going on a road trip all the way to Wyoming" that he still sings. He wants to go BADLY!) By the look and name of Sulfur Cauldron, I expect it to smell and act like the Bog of Eternal Stench in Labyrinth. Haha!

  25. Amazing, amazing, amazing!! It is all so huge in scope. Like your mind could never truly take it all in.

  26. Yellowstone is one of my favorite National Parks. I'd love to go back and these pictures only make me want it more!

  27. Calcite is one of my favorite stones! And I love the video!

  28. This is absolutely breathtaking! Yellowstone was never extremely high on my "Places to Go" list, but your pictures and descriptions make me want to go immediately (though thanks for the tip about booking at least a year in advance!). Eric is really interested in visiting Yellowstone, so I'm sure we'll be going at some point in the near(ish) future.

  29. I have never heard of the Grand Prismatic Spring but holy shit is it gorgeous!!


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