The 2017 Grand Teton/Yellowstone and a Whole Lot More Adventure
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Saturday, September 9, 2017: IAH-DEN, DEN to Dubois, WY
Not that I want to think about this trip being over on the first day, but the simple truth is I have no idea when I’ll be taking another trip. Things are very unstable with “The Man”. That’s all I will say on that, but hope it explains “Randall’s Last Stand for a While”.
Aunt Pat took me to IAH early this morning. After checking my bags, I had a very personal pat down with TSA. The highlight was having the guy run his latex gloved hands inside the waist band of my shorts. Not that I usually go without underwear, but I was extra glad to have some kind of protection on today! Sorry for the visual!
The flight was smooth; the plane was a 787 Dreamliner. I was in First Class. Buying the ticket back in January with my income tax return made it reasonable and I am sure no one was complaining to not be sharing elbow room with me in coach.
We arrived at DEN about 10:15 AM. The Denver airport setup is interesting; passengers from every terminal take a train to the same baggage claim area. It worked fine for me, I was on the rental car shuttle by 11am. I was on the road in the rental by 11:30. I’m driving a 2016 Jeep Patriot.
Obviously a car would get better gas mileage, but I didn’t know what rugged roads I might encounter in the parks. I am staying at the Stagecoach Motor Inn in Dubois, WY. I arrived here about 7pm after making several restroom and picture taking breaks along the way, including Crowheart Butte and Wind River.
It is about 450 miles from the Denver airport to Dubois. While I am used to taking trips by myself at this point in my life, it was a long car ride. Especially since the aux jack doesn’t work, so I was limited on my tunes. Fortunately, I have some music on my phone and managed to connect to Bluetooth in the Jeep.
Tonight I had dinner at a place called The Nostalgia Bistro. I tried their Thai Beef Tips and Rice. It was pretty good, but a little pricey at $22. I could have gone cheaper and gone with a burger, but I had McDonald’s for lunch. Tomorrow I will head out early and spend the day in Grand Teton National Park.
Sunday, September 10, 2017: Dubois to Grand Teton National Park
I left Dubois at 5 AM this morning and headed to Grand Teton National Park. It rained for most of the drive, which was in the dark, on curvy mountainous roads. I crossed the Continental Divide, which I actually crossed yesterday twice. I made to Oxbow Bend which is just inside the east entrance of the park.
It was about 6:15 and still dark. There were only a few people out there, which changed quickly. Cars started showing up out of nowhere and the small parking lot was filled along with a bunch lining the road.
It’s a beautiful spot. You could hear elk rutting off in the distance. I stayed there about an hour and took some pictures.
Then I headed to Signal Mountain, it took about 30 minutes to get there. There weren’t a lot of people there and it cleared out, then I had the whole place to myself for a bit. You can see for miles deep into the valley. It’s gets redundant to say, but it was very beautiful!
Next was Jenny Lake which took another thirty minutes to get to. The drive through Grand Teton is spectacular! I arrived way early for the Jenny Lake Scenic Cruise at noon, but had read that parking gets bad if you don’t get there early. With a lot of time to spare I went to the visitor’s center and talked with a ranger for a minute and picked up some souvenirs. Then I went to the Jenny Lake Store and chatted with a gentleman there who gave me some great suggestions about the park and Yellowstone too. The area is under construction which meant a mile or so walk to the Jenny Lake Boat Dock. I wound up over there around 10 AM and was still early.
There was a fantastic view of the mountains, so I just sat and took it in until it was time for the cruise.
When the cruise was over, I trekked back to the jeep and headed for Teton Village. Along the way there were two hikers thumbing for a ride. A couple in their mid to late twenties I am guessing. I stopped and asked where they were headed, which was Teton Village. Their names were Alex and Michelle and they live in Salt Lake City. They had been in the park since Friday night, hiking and camping. Their car was parked in Teton Village. They were nice and while I know picking up hitchhikers could be very bad, it was inside the park and they were obviously hikers given what they were wearing, and their packs. I think it was the first time I have picked up hitchhikers. They were parked in the same lot I needed to go to for the Teton Village aerial tram. Which is what I did next.
The tram is kind of pricey at $37, but it whisks you to the top of Rendezvous Mountain at 10,450 feet in 12 minutes. It’s mainly used as a ski lift in ski season, but also for sightseeing. At the top, there was a snack shop selling waffles that are evidently a long-time favorite. I had not eaten lunch, and breakfast was donut holes, so naturally a waffle with brown sugar was a healthy option! It’s served folded over with the brown sugar inside, then they cut it in strips. It was good, just not sure it was $7 good. It’s all about the experiences, right?
After the Teton Village Aerial Tram, I checked into the Motel 6 in Jackson Hole. The Motel 6 here runs twice what most other Motel 6’s cost, but is just as quaint. Although this one has had the Ikea-esque upgrade. According to the guide on the Jenny Lake Scenic Cruise, back in the 20’s when Rockefeller was buying up the land that became Grand Teton National Park, he pieced it together for around a million dollars (obviously that would be a whole lot more in today’s money). Now a lot in Jackson Hole costs about $500,000.00. I guess that explains the inflated price here at Motel 6. Anyway, after checking in and showering (which I really, really needed), I took it easy for a bit, then headed back into Grand Teton and went to Mormon Row and took some pictures.
Tomorrow I will make some stops in Grand Teton on the way up to Yellowstone, then venture into Yellowstone!
Monday, September 11, 2017: Jackson Hole via Grand Teton to Yellowstone National Park
I left the palatial Motel 6 in Jackson Hole, Wyoming around 6:30 AM this morning. It was later than I had planned, but I wanted to be able to see the mountains in Grand Teton this morning. After gassing up, I headed into Grand Teton and drove north towards Yellowstone National Park. Upon entering Grand Teton, the first thing I noticed was the US flag at half-staff to remember 9/11.
Yesterday morning the entrance was not open so I had not paid anything to be in the park as of yet, but this morning I bought the annual pass for all the parks. It is $80 and is good for a year, it would have cost me either $50 or $60 for Grand Teton and Yellowstone. I would like to go see Big Bend in the next year, so between the use I will get out of this trip, it is worth it. Soon after entering the park, a herd of elk were coming close to the road. There were people behind me so I couldn’t stop, but I did double back and was able to get some decent pictures from about 100 yards.
The first stop I made inside Yellowstone was at the Grant Village general store, mainly because I had to GO, and restrooms are not in abundance. I’m not above finding a tree, but the traffic was heavy and the trees were pretty thin.
I tried some elf and bison sliders. They were pretty good, but at $16 I would have to pass if given the option again. I wanted something besides a burger or a sandwich, but they didn’t start serving their entrees until after 5pm.
After lunch, I drove to the Idaho state line, took a picture, and headed back. When is the next time I will be near Idaho? I have no idea, so even though I was there about two minutes, I can say I have been there now.
The road with the straighter shot (Norris to Mammoth) was closed, the detour was through Dunraven Pass which is mountain roads. It was very pretty, but took a long time as there was a convoy of vehicles.
The park is a lot busier than I hoped, no doubt it must be less than the summer crowds, but there are still a lot of people here. I drove by Mammoth Hot Springs, and it was crazy with people, so I kept on going to Gardiner. There was an Elk buck sitting on the front lawn of the visitor’s center near Mammoth.
After checking in at the Super 8 in Gardiner, I took a shower, and had dinner at the Iron Horse Bar and Grill. I tried the elk meatloaf, paired with mashed potatoes and corn on the cobb. It was pretty good. Although these Mom and Pop restaurants I have been trying have big city chain prices ($20 and up plus tip).
After dinner, I went to the Roosevelt Arch and took some pictures. It picked up the name after President Teddy Roosevelt laid the cornerstone in 1903.
From there I went back into Yellowstone to Mammoth Hot Springs. The crowds were gone and I took some decent pictures.
There was also an elk family hanging out nearby. I drove back north to Gardiner and called it a night at the Super 8. I’ve have been able to get just about everything I put on my maniacal vacation spreadsheet. I didn’t get to Grand Prismatic Spring today, but hope to get there early Wednesday before the tour buses hit. I drove by it today, but it was very crowded. Tomorrow, I will check out Lamar Valley and will hopefully see some more wildlife.
Tuesday, September 12, 2017: Gardiner to Lamar Valley to Old Faithful
I left Gardiner at 6:30 this morning for the drive over to Lamar Valley. Originally, I wanted to get an earlier start, but needed a little extra sleep and the drive would have been on winding mountain roads in the dark. Waiting for daylight made the drive more enjoyable. Lamar Valley already had a lot of people driving through and set up in prime wildlife viewing spots. I stopped a few times for pictures, then proceeded out the northeast entrance of the park to Silver Gate, MT. I had a breakfast at a place called The Log Cabin Café. I had pancakes, bacon, and scrambled eggs. It was the first real breakfast on this trip.
Yellowstone National Park-Northeast Entrance
After breakfast, I drove back into the park and spent more time in Lamar Valley and took a bunch of pictures of bison. This was a deviation from my original plan, which was going to take a day trip to Cody, WY and visit the Buffalo Bill museum. I am sure that is worth a visit, but I decided I wanted to soak up as much Yellowstone as I can.
From Lamar Valley, I drove over Dunraven Pass to Hayden Valley,
I was heading back from Lake Yellowstone to find lunch somewhere and three guys in their late teens, early twenties were thumbing for a ride. Just as the case on Sunday, these were hikers. I didn’t have anything pressing, so I pulled over and they told me they had hiked from Lamar Valley, 34 miles of mountains and valleys which took them four days. I gave them a ride back to their vehicle in Lamar Valley, so back over Dunraven pass for the third time since yesterday. The guys were from Oregon, maybe a year or so out of high school. They told me their names, I should have written them down and took a picture with them for proof! They are three friends, spending six weeks on the road, on the cheap, camping in national forests which I learned from them is free versus the national parks. They had to pay to get in the park, but if you are not staying in a campground, you just get a back country permit for hiking/camping overnight. They were guys and they told me a lot about Oregon and we compared travel notes. They are supposed to swing through at Texas at some point. I told them to give me a call if they pass through Houston. It was interesting.
After dropping them off at their vehicle (which is an 89 suburban with a canoe strapped on top), I headed towards Old Faithful lodge where I am staying for the night. It took two hours to get back as another trip over Dunraven Pass was required. It’s a mountainous road and if you get behind a couple of RV’s, you might as well settle in for going 10-15 mph below the speed limit.
I made it to the lodge at about 5:45pm. After checking in I ate in the cafeteria and had the buffalo meat loaf. It was decent, very pricey though, but since it was lunch and dinner, I guess that works out. Once I settled in my little cabin, I walked out to view Old Faithful. It was 8:20 or so when she started gurgling and spewing. Even though it had gotten dark, I think some of the pictures turned out nice. I have one more day and night in Yellowstone. It has been a great experience so far.
Wednesday, September 13, 2017: Old Faithful to geyser basins to Canyon Village
I walked out of the cabin a little after 7 am, the view from the cabin was spectacular as geese were flying along a creek.
After loading up I drove around to the Old Faithful Lodge and turned my key in. I also turned in an Anne Klein watch I found last night not too far away from the lodge on the way to the Old Faithful viewing area.
It’s a long shot, but if someone was looking for it, hopefully they were reunited. I’m a little sentimental on stuff like that, you don’t know if it was a gift from someone. Maybe it was just a watch. Anyway, it’s at the lost and found at the Old Faithful Lodge.
Then I headed out to explore the lower geyser basin. The parking lot for Grand Prismatic Spring was already a madhouse by 9 AM. I should have gotten out there early, it’s one of the few things I didn’t get to see. I could have weathered the crowds, but preferred to just go somewhere with less people.
From there I headed up to Madison Junction, and then to the Norris Geyser Basin which had a full parking lot. I decided to head east toward Canyon Village. I had lunch at the grill in Canyon Village, it’s inside the general store where you can buy groceries, souvenirs, and hand dipped ice cream. I picked up a few things, then went to the Canyon Village Visitor’s center, there I bought a Yellowstone patch. I’ve been putting the patches from the parks I visit on my backpack. Currently it has (in order of visits) Channel Islands, Yosemite, and Grand Canyon. Patches from Grand Teton and Yellowstone will join the fleet soon! From there I drove south towards Hayden Valley and saw several bison/buffalo. I think they are supposed to be called bison, but the labels seem to be interchanged depending on who you talk to or what you read. I kept going south to Lake Village.
The view there was magnificent! I sat there and filled out some post cards to send to friends and family. If you don’t get one from me, don’t get offended, I sent to who I had addresses for on my phone.
Then I dropped the postcards off at the Lake Village post office.
From there I headed back north through Hayden Valley again, then to Canyon Village. I tried to see Artists Point, but the line was backed up a mile or so. I decided to come back later. I made it to the registration desk for the Canyon Lodge Western cabins (my home for the night) at 3:30 pm. It wasn’t supposed to be ready until 4:30, but I took a chance and it was ready. The cabins look kind of drab from the outside, but inside they are nice. They seem to have been refurbished lately with heavy wood furniture for the bed frames, tables, and chairs. The windows have views of the forest.
After settling in, I went for dinner at the grill again, they have a couple of other restaurant options in Canyon Village, one being a restaurant you must make reservations for. From experience at Grand Canyon last year, that equals a $30 plus meal for one. I had a pulled pork sandwich with fries for dinner.
At this point it had started raining off and on, so I decided to take my chance with Artists Point which overlooks the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone River. It’s not as big as “The Grand Canyon”, but it’s a must see.
There were still people there, but it wasn’t crazy, with lots of open parking places. You just need a rainstorm to drive the masses inside! I was getting some nice pictures when another rainstorm hit. I got a little wet, I got my pictures I came for at Artist’s Point on the south rim, then it was on to the north rim which only had a slim crowd as well. More fantastic views and hopefully some great pictures. Then I came back to my cabin where I am sitting here typing this.
Being totally candid, when I started thinking of coming to Yellowstone, it was to cross a big one off the list of the national parks. The more I started researching and planning, the more excited I became, and I am so glad I made the trek. Early tomorrow I will head east towards Devil’s Tower, Deadwood, Crazy Horse Memorial, and Mt. Rushmore.
Yellowstone is busier than I thought it would be, but the weather is great and I guess everyone else had the same idea as me. I can only imagine how bad it is in the peak summer time. This is common sense, but getting up early or going back later than everyone else seems to work the best for the big crowd draws. What is magnificent about Yellowstone though is the park is magnificent. By me trying to avoid crowds I saw things I probably would not have, drove down roads just to see where they went. Grand Teton was less crowded, but no less beautiful. These places are amazing, it’s hard to pick a favorite. Yellowstone has a little bit of everything, valleys, canyons, mountains, wildlife, thermal wonders. No doubt the reason it draws a crowd. One positive thing about the crowds means that people see the value in connecting with nature. Places like this are my Disneyland. You cross paths with people from all over the world, and the people watching can be fantastic. With all of that said, there are a lot of bad drivers here! Between Grand Teton and Yellowstone, I saw two cars that had run off the road deep into trees, and neither time was on a mountainous stretch of road. However, those minor annoyances pale to the humbling one feels at some of God’s lesser seen creations. I am sad to be heading out tomorrow, but excited to see some other new places before heading back to the doldrum life back where I live. It’s hard to call it home. Oddly, I feel most at home doing what I am doing right now, out seeing new places. If am to be alone, I would rather it be out exploring than coping with suburbia. All it takes is time and money which unfortunately the sand is almost out of the hour glass for both for this trip. My apologies for the melancholy theme, I am very fortunate to be on this trip. However, trips like this make me want more out of life. Maybe that’s asking for too much, everything is relative. At this very moment, people across Florida, Texas, and other gulf states are wading through the remnants of flooded houses trying to put their lives back together. We each must take what comes our way though, and while I do feel for those people and the ones less fortunate than me, I am obviously mostly concerned with how to navigate my life. Well this is getting deep, time to close the lid and go to bed.
Thursday, September 14, 2017: Yellowstone to Devil’s Tower to Deadwood to Crazy Horse to Mt. Rushmore
(It is Saturday and I am at the airport catching up on this. Thursday and Friday involved a lot of driving, so I didn’t get to write this in real time.)
I left Canyon Village at 5am and headed towards the east entrance of Yellowstone. This meant taking the road south to Fishing Bridge and then turning east at Fishing Bridge. It was dark, so I couldn’t see a whole lot. I stopped outside the east entrance and took a picture. During my three days in Yellowstone, I entered and or exited all five park entrances. By no means did I see all there is to see of Yellowstone, but I think I a managed my time there well and fit a lot of stuff in. There were a couple of highlights (Grand Prismatic Spring, Norris Geyser Basin) I didn’t fit in because the parking lots were crazy crowded. If/when I visit again I will make those the priority and get there as early or late as I need to. I am grateful I could see Yellowstone. It’s one of the places you hear about, but seems like such a distant place to get to. No doubt it does take time and money to get there and a person could go relatively cheap by camping and buying groceries along the way. Traveling by myself it was just simpler to play the food part by ear. I didn’t spend as much on food as I thought I would, this was mainly due to inadvertently skipping a few meals. The memories from Yellowstone will last a lifetime I hope. From the bison, Pronghorn sheep, elk along with all the geological wonders inside the park. No doubt the people you cross path with leave a mark as well. The young hikers I gave a ride to, fellow solo travelers like the guy waiting for Old Faithful on Tuesday night from Illinois. He had a friend that was supposed to make the trip with him, and the friend bailed, but he went anyway, camping out for two weeks along the way. The guy I saw at Hayden Valley eating his lunch, sitting in a camping chair in the shade of his van, just taking the view in. I am sure some people visit and it’s just a notch to cross off, but to the ones that take the time to sit and enjoy the views and wildlife, no doubt you leave wanting more solitude in life.
As soon you leave the east entrance, you enter the Shoshone National Forest which is majestic. The sun was just coming up and the views were outstanding, before arriving at Cody you pass by the Buffalo Bill Cody Reservoir. I would like to go back and spend some time in Cody. I didn’t make it to the Buffalo Bill Museum along with a few other things.
Most of the day was spent driving, I arrived at Devil’s Tower a little before 1pm which is in the northeast part of Wyoming. It’s one of those things you just must see to appreciate. I didn’t spend long there, because the parking lot near the visitor center was packed, but there was a gravel road that led up to a higher point. I had the view to myself for several minutes.
The drive from Deadwood to Crazy Horse/Mt. Rushmore is in the Black Hills National Forest. It was a pretty drive, but after being through Yellowstone and several beautiful places in Wyoming, it doesn’t compare but is no doubt worth seeing. I arrived at the Crazy Horse Memorial about 4pm, and just took a few minutes to take some pictures, after paying the $11 entry fee to drive up as close as they will let you without taking a $4 bus ride to get a little closer.
From there I headed to Mount Rushmore and paid a $10 fee for parking there. The monument itself is free, but if you don’t want to hike up from the road, you must pay to park. By the way, the parking pass is good for a year if you are in the Jeep I rented. If you happen to be going to Denver and renting a Jeep from Enterprise, and going to Mount Rushmore in the next year, let me know and I’ll save you $10. I watched the sun go down on Mount Rushmore and stayed for the evening ceremony they do. A ranger came out and gave an oration about the presidents immortalized on Mount Rushmore, then a 20-minute film is shown with highlights of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt, and Abraham Lincoln. After that they turn the lights on the four presidents, and American the beautiful and the national anthem was played. They had all veterans and active duty military on stage, and then some of them along with the ranger took the flag down. It was the most patriotic thing I have ever experienced. After it was over I stayed around for a little bit waiting for the crows to dissipate, taking more pictures and enjoying the view.
I stayed at the Econo Lodge near Mount Rushmore in Keystone, SD. I was in the Jefferson Suite. No kidding.
Friday, September 15, 2017: Keystone, SD to Denver
I had planned to go to Custer State Park and Badlands which is an hour east of Keystone. However, it was raining hard, thus Custer State Park would have been foggy as you could barely see anything at Mount Rushmore.
I was also very road weary from being in the Jeep for 12 hours on Thursday. Plain and simple I wimped out on the additional three-five hours of driving that visiting Badlands would have required. I started heading back to Denver. I stopped at the Hooters in Loveland, CO for lunch. The service was better than the local one close to where I live. I went there for market research.
The first place I went to in the Denver area was the Red Rocks Amphitheatre in Morrison, CO. I have wanted to see a show there for years, but wanted to at least see it in person. There was some concert going on there, so they had the seating area closed to the public after 1 pm, so I was too late to see it, but I took a few pictures. It was already on my list but was recommended by my friend Lauren. She also recommended Lookout Mountain which is also where Buffalo Bill Cody is buried. From reading the information posted there, he died in Denver and had originally wanted to be buried in Cody, WY, but changed his mind on his death bed and requested to be buried on Lookout Mountain because of the view of Denver and the Rocky Mountains. The view is worth the drive up there! There was a van full of guys from a halfway house or something there, they looked rough, and a couple were smoking a joint right outside the museum entrance. Then I remembered “oh that’s legal here”. It was surreal. A few minutes after they left, I heard an older gentleman telling his family that exited the museum “did you see the van full of guys in there? They looked like a bunch of clowns getting out of a clown car.”
From Lookout Mountain, I drove to my friends Lauren and Roy’s house in Arvada, CO. Earlier in the week Lauren invited me to stay with them for the night. When I arrived, they were in their front yard playing with their son and daughter. Their son drew my picture in chalk on the driveway. He did a really good job, I may start using it as my photo to share with people of myself!
It was nice to catch up with them. I went to sleep about 10:30pm.
Saturday, September 16, 2017: Arvada to Red Rocks to DEN-HOU
I had breakfast at Lauren and Roy’s and then said our goodbyes. I am grateful they let me stay with them, it saved me a $100 at the Motel 6! It was also very nice to have people I knew to talk to after the week alone. From their house, I went back to Red Rocks and visited the Colorado Music Hall of fame, bought some souvenirs, and the seating area of the Red Rocks Amphitheatre was open. I really want to see a show there! Hopefully next year!
I turned in the Jeep, made it back to the Denver airport where I sit typing this, boarding for the flight is in about 40 minutes, and my laptop battery is about to die. I could go on and on at the great time I had, and not adequately convey all that I saw. I don’t know when my next trip will be, on the way to airport I saw a billboard for Moab, Utah. Stay Tuned.
2321 Miles driven on the trip
“There ought to be a law against anybody going to Europe until they had seen the things we have in this country.” -Will Rogers