Day Ten…A Big Question Mark!

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We got up this morning, not really knowing where we were going today. We knew we were leaving Yellowstone Park, but the big question was how? You see, for weeks, the South Entrance of Yellowstone Park, the entrance that leads to Grand Tetons National Park, has been closed due to a forest fire that was started by lightning on July 25th. The fire is in the northern end of the Grand Tetons, but is very near the road that connects the two parks. Our plan, since the beginning, had been to leave via this exit and see the Tetons, but Mother Nature seemed to have other plans for us. Without the South Entrance, we would be forced to do what everyone else has done for weeks, and that is use the West Entrance and exit through Idaho. That means either a 6 1/2 hour trek around Idaho and then Jackson, Wyoming to get to the Tetons, or forget about the Tetons.The latest word we had last night was that the South Entrance was still closed, but might open sometime today. We got a little excited until we were told that if it did open today, it probably wouldn’t be till this afternoon.

We checked out of the Lake Yellowstone Hotel around 9 AM, and when we got into the car, we realized we hadn’t asked about the South Entrance. Before we drove off, Susie got out of the car, and went back to to the front desk to enquire about it’s status. She had a very nondescript look on her face as she came out of the building, but as she got in the car she said, “Well, our 6 1/2 hour trip just became 2 hours. The South Entrance opened at 7:30 this morning!!!”

Just like our entrance into Yellowstone, our departure was delayed by bison. This time not just one, but a whole family of them, including baby bison. There was a big guy, who was obviously the boss, and he stood in the middle of the road, while the rest crossed. They are huge animals and obviously in charge of the situation, as they probably weigh close to what many cars do. We also saw an elk on the side of the road! A fitting way to end our 3 days at Yellowstone!

DSC_0356.JPGThe closer we got to the South Entrance, the more smoke we saw, and the heavier traffic was heading to Yellowstone. By the time we went through the South Entrance, the smoke was heavy and there was lots of evidence of fire fighting, including a field full of helicopters. Our first view of the Tetons was smoke shrouded, and we traveled through an area where it was very obvious that the fire had burned on both sides of the road. We even passed an area where there was still smoke from smoldering brush. It was very obvious that the fire had affected this northern area of the park, but the strange part was, that as soon as we were past the immediate fire area, the smoke became much less an issue. The smoke from this fire, that we had smelled in Yellowstone for 3 days, was obviously blowing north and not affecting Teton as much as Yellowstone.

The sights in Teton are incredible. The mountains are truly majestic, and I would imagine that without any fire smoke, they would be even more majestic. The problem for us though, was that we thought this park would be more like Yellowstone, with lots to see. Even though we took the scenic Teton Park Road, we passed through the park so quickly. Perhaps there is much to do if you are a hiker or biker, but beyond the beautiful vistas, we are honestly a little disappointed.

At the bottom of the park we drove through Jackson, Wyoming, and it was a really cute small western town. I would imagine that in snow season, it is hopping, as there were many ski runs on the mountains. Obviously it is aimed at a high brow crowd, as the stores and restaurants we saw were definitely of a higher quality than what we’d seen in the surrounding country.

imageThen it was on to Idaho. We are staying tonight in Idaho Falls, and we ended up getting here a little after 3. Because we’ve been on the road for 10 days, Susie was very desirous to do some laundry. Lucky for us, the Comfort Inn we are staying at tonight has laundry facilities. The hours between 3:30 and 5:00 were given over to laundry, and now we have some more clean clothes and that makes Susie happy!!

imageTonight we had a wonderful dinner at a place called The Sandpiper. I picked it because at Yellowstone, we were staying in the Sandpiper wing of the Lake Hotel, but boy did we make a good choice! We so like eating dinner in the towns we stay in at a local restaurant. Yes, Chlli’s, Applebees, or an Olive Garden may be fine, but we really like the idea of getting a taste of where we are and not chain food. We both had pork..Susie had pork medallions in a bourbon mushroom gravy, and I had a pork ribeye! Excellent dinner, in a lovely setting. After dinner, we took a little ride, and actually found the falls that Idaho Falls are named after! Success!!

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On the way back to the motel, we decided that after 10 days on the road, clothes were not the only thing that needed cleaning! The poor Sonata needed a bath! We drove till we found a self service car wash, and $3 later, we had a Sonata that was recognizably red again, and a front bug screen minus a lot of bugs!

It’s now after 11 PM (Mountain Time), and as I had to post days 8 and 9 earlier, I think I’m done for the night!

Sleep tight

 

 

Our Big Adventure….Day Nine!

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Fact Number One…even though we set our alarm last night so we would be on time for our 9:15 boat ride this morning, we both were awake before the alarm sounded, saving us from the pain of waking up to an alarm.

Fact Number Two…when we woke this morning about 7:30, the temperature in Yellowstone National Park was 37 degrees.

Fact Number Three…we are both wearing long pants for the first time in months.

We were up and out this morning in plenty of time to be early for our Lake Yellowstone tour. By the time we got to the marina, it had turned into a beautiful sunny morning, and the temperature was in the 50s. There were 17 of us on the 9:15 cruise aboard the Lake Queen II, and we were lucky enough to have Ranger Laurie along with us to provide the play by play. One of the first things we learned is that Lake Yellowstone is a caldera of a volcano. We’ve been to Crater Lake in Oregon, but didn’t realize that this immense lake was the same thing. The lake is 131.7 square miles, and in the recent history of the park, they have discovered that there are geothermal features at the bottom of the lake, just like Old Faithful. One interesting thing Ranger Laurie told us was that when the park land was set aside, it was done because of the geothermal features on the land. The rest of what Yellowstone is famous for, the beautiful scenery, and the wildlife, was just a happy accident. She also told us about the disastrous introduction of Lake Trout into Yellowstone Lake by parties unknown. It seems that the Lake Trout are much bigger than the Yellowstone Trout and in fact eat the Yellowstone Trout. This is bad because for many of the park animals, the Yellowstone Trout are a source of protein. She also told of the extensive efforts the NPS is making to get the Lake Trout out of Yellowstone Lake. Every time we’ve listened to a Ranger talk at one of the several National Parks we’ve been at this week, we always come away knowing something we didn’t know before. As an added treat, just before the boat pulled into the marina, we were treated to a small herd of bison on the side of the water!

After the boat ride, we got back in the car and continued to explore the huge area that is Yellowstone. We headed towards the Canyon area and stopped at many of the pullouts along the way. Some to take pictures, and some to read about some noted feature of the park. The combination of the up, down and around roads, stopping at pullouts, and the speed limits on various sections of the roads, makes travel slow in Yellowstone. While Canyon Village is only about 17 miles from where we started, the trip took the better part of an hour. Along the way we were treated to incredible views of the Yellowstone River, saw the Hadley Rapids, and got to smell the Sulphur Caldron. Just before Canyon Village, we took the detour road and got to see the Canyon Falls (both upper and lower falls), and some of what is called Yellowstone’s Grand Canyon, thanks to the erosive action of the Yellowstone River.

DSC_0291.JPGAt Canyon Falls Village we decided to have lunch. We’d hoped to have lunch in the Canyon Falls Lodge’s Dining Room, but due to staff shortages (probably kids going back to college), it was closed for lunch. Damn! So we instead went into the Cafeteria and both of us had Rice Bowls (think Chipotle). While not as elegant as I hoped our lunch would be, they were good and we left filled up to continue our exploration. Oh, and everywhere you see signs about the wildlife. Well, as we pulled the car out of our space, and proceeded around the parking lot, there was a deer standing on one of the lot medians munching away on a bush. I guess they too stop there for lunch!

Then we continued on with our travels towards the Roosevelt area of the park. During this part of the drive, you go over the Dunnraven Pass. The road is narrow, winding, and as you go around the curves, there are no guard rails to stop you should you make a mistake. Makes you wonder if there are vehicle accidents in the park, as it was a fairly sheer drop, and as we were on the outside most of the time, makes for a little but of a hairy ride! Of course, the folks who think you can drive 50 even when the speed limit is 25 exist even in Yellowstone, so our course of action was to pull into a pullout and let them pass, whenever we encountered one of them!

DSC_0300.JPGAt Roosevelt we both decided that we’d had enough for today, and decided to head home. We have a two hour sunset tour in one of the famous Yellowstone historical Yellow Busses tonight at 5:45, and felt we need a little bit of down time before that, so we turned around and headed back to Lake Yellowstone and the Lake Hotel. On the way back, we very clearly saw evidence of the many fires in and around Yellowstone Park. The big one is of course in the northern part of the Grand Tetons, and as of now, is closing Yellowstone’s South Entrance (which we were planning on taking tomorrow), but that is by no means the only fire. We clearly saw the smoke from several other fires in an around Yellowstone, including now which started 3 days ago 9 miles from our hotel, and the smell of smoke was very evident in the air, as well as the hazy conditions when looking in the distance. The Park Service’s policy is to let the fires burn as a natural regeneration of the forest environment. All over the park you can see the evidence of past fires, and on many of the ones from longer ago, also the young growth of new trees that nature has provided. As that old TV commercial said, you can’t fight with Mother Nature!

DSC_0299.jpgAs Susie was driving back, traffic stopped dead. We’ve been here long enough to know we were probably looking at the results of an animal crossing or walking on the road. Sure enough, there was a huge bison, just ambling up the road at his own pace. First he was on the right side of the road, then the left, seemingly oblivious to the cars and RVs around him. Eventually we were able to pull to the left side of the road, and get around him. Ranger Laurie told us this morning that the roads in Yellowstone by in large follow the earliest laid out paths through the park, and those early paths many times followed animal paths, so in reality we are on their turf, not the other way around! Always an adventure in Yellowstone!

We’re relaxing in the room with a drink, as Susie reads and I write today’s blog post. Even though you wont be seeing this till tomorrow, I am indeed writing it on day nine! Pretty soon it will be time to go to our sunset tour, on which we hope to see some additional wildlife and a great sunset over Yellowstone Park.

INTERMISSION – Talk among yourselves…

DSC_0304It is a little after 10, and we just came back from sitting in the the sun room, listening to wonderful piano music, having a couple of drinks, and a few nibbles for dinner. The Sunset Tour was phenomenal!! Our vehicle was a 1937 White Motor Car Tour Bus. The entire body is made of wood and the canvas top rolls back, exposing you to the sky. It seats 13 plus the driver. Originally there were 98 taking visitors all over Yellowstone, but in the 60s they seemed to fade from style, and Yellowstone got rid of them all. They had a colorful history after that, some even ending up in Alaska!! Well, in the late 90s, the 8 that were in Alaska were offered back to Yellowstone, and they bought them. In 2007, Xanteria, the main concessioner in the park, sent them out to be rebuilt. The wood body and the peal back top still are in place, but now they are powered by a Ford V/8 and shifted by an automatic transmission.

Our tour guide/driver Leslie was incredible. She knew so much about the park’s history, about wildlife habits, and about the science of so many of the geothermal features in the park that we not only enjoyed every minute of it, but learned a lot too! We had a delay again as a bison wandered along the road, saw deer, geese, swans, ravens, chipmunks, and even a baby bison! And then there was the sunset! From a point high over Yellowstone Lake, we watched the sun descend, turn the sky magic colors, and watched day become night over Yellowstone. Leslie told us stories up there about the various trees in the park and what fire does to them and how it helps continue the growth cycle. Then, as were about to leave, we actually got to roll the top back on the bus and close it up to the elements, as the temperatures were getting colder. On the way back to the hotel, Leslie continued to give us information about the park, and the wildlife. A wonderful way to spend almost close to 3 hours in Yellowstone!

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It has been a wonderful day in Yellowstone, but tomorrow morning it’s time to end our 2 days in the park, and move on. Our plans were to head out the south entrance and head to the Grand Tetons, but the fire in the Tetons has changed that plan. Unless something happens tomorrow morning, we will be heading out the West Entrance of Yellowstone, into Idaho! Check back tomorrow and see how we did.

Day Eight

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Our first thought was, “Oh my God…how did it get to be day eight already????” To say that this first week on the road has flown, would be an understatement. When you think of the miles we have traveled, the places we have seen, the great meals we have had, and the experiences we’ve shared, you’d think that these past 8 days would have seemed like an eternity, but it really hasn’t. The daily drives have been very manageable, the hotels we’ve stayed in have by far been fine, and the things we’ve seen have really been spectacular. How could we ask for anything more!

This morning we woke in Cody, Wyoming and here’s a secret of our travels…we don’t wake to an alarm! We get up when we get up. Both Susie and I have spent too much of our life needing to wake up with an alarm, and we refuse to do it on this trip…unless we absolutely have to! So we got up, went and partook of the free breakfast at the hotel, and then got in the car and headed the 50 miles to the East Entrance of Yellowstone National Park. Now Yellowstone is the first, and therefor, the oldest National Park, and since we are still in the NPS’s 100th birthday weekend, again there was no charge to get in…another day without being able to use my Senior Pass!!

DSC_0196We were less than 2 miles into the park when the traffic stopped dead. We had no idea why, until we rounded a curve and found out why. Coming down the double yellow line in the road, like he was doing a sobriety test, was the largest bison we’d ever seen. He continued to amble down the road until he passed about 3 feet away from the car, and we all went on our way! Talk about seeing wildlife!!! Then we continued to Yellowstone Lake, which is huge! We are staying for 2 nights in the Yellowstone Lake Hotel, and it is both old (it opened in 1891) and beautiful…but more on that later.

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DSC_0226Our destination this afternoon was Old Faithful Geyser. As we traveled from the Lake area of Yellowstone to Old Faithful, we passed over the Continental Divide, twice in each direction. Amazing to think that rain on one side eventually drains to the Atlantic, and on the other side, the Pacific. I actually thought the first time we’d see it was in the Rockies, but Yellowstone has it all!

I don’t know what’s the more amazing thing about Old Faithful…that it erupts about 130 feet in the air, and has been doing it since it was first discovered in the 1800s, or that it does it with such regularity that they actually have a schedule for it!! 3:02 plus or minus 10 minutes was what it was scheduled for this afternoon, and right on the money at about 3:04, erupt it did! Crazy! The other crazy thing is how rude and selfish some people are. We went out to the viewing area and grabbed a front row (benches) seat at about 2:30. By 2:50, the place was full of people, but minutes before the eruption, here come a bunch of folks who decided they should sit on the ground in front of us. Yeah, I really want your head in my picture folks!! Guess what…most of them were not English speaking tourists! Ugly Americans my ass! We are some of the nicest, considerate folks you will run into, but watch out for the tour busses of foreigners! Rant over!

imageAfter the eruption, we returned to the hotel and got changed for dinner. We had 5:30 reservations in the Lake Hotel Dining Room, and felt we should get out of the shirts and t-shirts befitting eating in a nicer venue. This hotel has a real old school elegant feel to it, imageand we wanted to feel like we were upholding the history of the place in our dress. We felt good about what we did, but obviously some folks didn’t feel the same, as we saw every mode of dress! I’m sorry, but there is just something about someone eating dinner in a wonderful, historic dining room like this hotel has, in a baseball cap, that bothers me. Oh well. We had a wonderful dinner, starting with an excellent charcuterie plate, and then had an excellent Bison Filet. A nice bottle of bubbly and a couple of scrumptious desserts rounded out a really excellent meal!

IMG_4217.jpgAfter dinner, we sat on the front porch of the hotel for a bit, looking at the lake, then came inside and sat in the lounge. We had a couple of drinks, listened to the lady playing the piano, had a nice conversation with a couple from the UK, and wrapped up our day in a great way!

Tomorrow we may have to set an alarm (oh God, no!!!) because we have a cruise on Lake Yellowstone at 9:15 AM. Then we have the middle of the day to explore the park, and we end our day with a Yellow Bus Sunset Tour! Looking forward to another great day!!

Susie just commented that this is a first for us this week. We have a very nice room, but there is no TV and no air-conditioning! In addition, there’s no Wifi, but then we are in a National Park! If I get to post this at all, it will be via my cell phone’s hot spot, and there is no way I will be able to get pictures loaded. So if you see this sans pictures, know that once we are back in wifi territory, I will share some of the great ones we took today with you!

See you tomorrow!