Western Vacation: Yellowstone to Iowa

We got up early and to drive from Yellowstone to Iowa.  As we loaded the last of the items into the car, we heard wolves howling.  
We dropped out of the mountains fairly quickly.  
And then it was fairly flat. 

We saw an RV pulling a tractor. 

We saw a dog launcher.

Interesting road signs are always entertaining.

Still really flat.  

We stopped at the South Dakota welcome center and they had this fossilized saber tooth tiger skull on display.  
Greta learned that pointing is a great way to get what she wants. 
She got what she pointed at.  

Yup, still flat. 

We stopped for gas in South Dakota and Greta watched the motorcyclists with great interest.  There were a great many of them as Sturgis Rally was that weekend.  

We stopped for dinner in the Badlands National Park.  After this is was dark and Greta woke up the next morning in Iowa. Quite the drive, quite the trip!

Western Vacation: Old Faithful area

We got early the first morning at Old Faithful and hiked to the top of the Observation Point. It commanded a wide view of Old Faithful Inn, the geyser basin, and Old Faithful Geyser. 

Greta was bundled up – not used to 40 degrees in the morning!  
Old Faithful Geyser was warming up for an eruption. We didn’t last long enough though, breakfast was calling.
Left, we did see Beehive (I think) erupt.  Right, Old Faithful just after erupting. 

After breakfast we headed out to see some sites.  We started in Midway Geyser Basin to see Grand Prismatic Spring.  This is a popular stop, so hitting it early in the day is key.  

The early morning steam actually impeded our views of some of the pools.  The size of Midway basin is larger than that of many other features – the hot pools are on a massive scale.

The run-off from Grand Prismatic is a vivid orange.  This is due to the thermophiles that thrive in the hot waters of this hot spring.  The center is a blue, fading to a greenish, then to yellow, and then orange and red. Here is a nice aerial view of this well-known hot spring.  
Grand Prismatic is Yellowstone’s largest hot pool, measuring about 370 feet in diameter and over 121 feet deep.  
We enjoyed the clear blue day and the steam from the hot pools. 

Our next stop was at Artist Paint Pots.  This is a nice trail/boardwalk that takes you around some thermal features at the road level and then the trail climbs up into the hillside with a nice overlook. 

The view of Artist Paint Pots below.  Artist Paint Pots are named for the colorful hot pools like those of artists’ paints. 

My favorite part of Artist Paint Pots are the mud hot pools.  These bubble and splurt away – think hot bubbling oatmeal as the consistency.  

We headed north again toward the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone.  

It is aptly named for its steep canyon walls.  

We took a very steep hike down to Lower Falls.  

Lower Falls is 308 feet tall and twice the height of Niagara Falls.  During peak water run-off it can expel 63, 500 gallons of water per second. Eric’s view and my view.          
After our views of Lower Falls, we headed back to the Inn.  Again, we were just in time for Old Faithful’s eruption.  The best location to watch Old Faithful is from the second floor viewing deck in the Inn.  You have access to lovely benches, tables, and a second floor lobby with tables and its own bar.  We met up with my dad’s brother, Dick and his daughter, Molly on our last night at in Yellowstone.  

Greta thoroughly enjoyed this second floor viewing deck as well .  We moved on to dinner in the Old Faithful dining room after this.  Their menu has been updated to reflect Western fare, including elk, bison, and trout.  I was impressed with the level of quality on this trip. 

After dinner we made the mile and half or so trek down to Morning Glory Pool.  This pool’s color has been changed due to humans throwing debris into the pool.  It used to be a much deeper blue hue, like that of a morning glory flower.  After vacuuming as much debris out as possible, some of the color has returned.  

We waited around with a sleeping Greta and watched Daisy geyser erupt as well. 

Old Faithful has so many happy childhood memories.  I miss this place so much already, and look forward to subsequent trips.  I hope that Greta will have some of the same memories of this magical place as I have. 

Western Vacation: Grand Tetons

After a night at Mammoth, we headed south through Yellowstone, toward the Grand Tetons, stopping at a few attractions along the way.  
First we saw Roaring Mountain.  This thermal feature is an entire mountain side covered in steaming vents.
We stopped at Norris Geyser Basin, next.  This is a large area with many thermal attractions.  It is a very popular stopping point, so getting there early is key.  Parking can be quite the problem later in the day.  The boardwalks and paths take you through some very interesting thermal features.  
Echinus is one that used to erupt quite frequently in the 90s.  
Steamboat is the world’s largest active geyser.  Currently, Steamboat has small frequent eruptions of 10 to 40 feet.  If you are lucky enough, you may get to see its grand eruption which is a jet of water more than 300 feet, lasting anywhere from 8 to 10 minutes.  However, these eruptions are rather unpredictable
This pool, Pearl Geyser, had an intriguing center – it was almost an opaque or smoky color of blue. 
Some of the thermal features also have interesting sounds.  Frying pan, no?
We arrived in the Tetons later in the afternoon, after a lunch and laundry stop at Colter Bay. 
  The first evening at Jackson Lake Lodge gave us pretty dramatic panoramic shots.  This is the view from the main lobby’s tremendous soaring windows.  This truly may be the world’s best bar – you simply can’t beat a patio with these views. The patio also happens to be the perfect early morning wildlife viewing vantage point. 
This photo does not give enough of a sense of scale of the lobby’s interior.  It is a fabulous place to lose an entire afternoon or evening, just sitting.  Can you tell how much I love being in the Tetons and Jackson Lake Lodge? 😉
Greta enjoyed an after-dinner strawberry milkshake from the Lodge’s Grill.  I enjoyed the views of my two as well as this view from our bench:
Stay tuned for tomorrow’s post: hiking in the Tetons. 

Western Vacation: Mammoth Hot Springs

After a lovely night in Red Lodge and a full view from the Beartooth, we moved on to Mammoth Hot Springs.  Mammoth is nice because of its village feel.  It has a main lodge, cabins with or without hot tubs, a general store, gas station, restaurant, grill, visitor center and museum, and its own boardwalks with thermal features.  It offers plenty of panoramic views and loads of hiking options.  
The cabins are a nice way to relax in Mammoth.  They feature cute cut-outs, a roomy porch, and are clustered around a skating rink in the winter.  
This was our view directly behind our cabin. 
We walked to dinner in jackets and long sleeves – quite the weather change from North Carolina.  
The obligatory after dinner pose on the balcony of the restaurant at Mammoth. 
The main lobby has a covered drive-up.  We took over some benches after dinner to digest our meals and ice cream.  Yellowstone has the best huckleberry ice cream around.  
An after dinner stroll was just the ticket.  The evening is nice for sight seeing in Mammoth for several reasons – the light is perfect, it has cooled off, and the crowds have dispersed as many visitors pass through the main lodges and end up staying outside the park or in the campgrounds.  
Liberty Cap is the remnants of an old hot spring.  The formation is the left over mineral deposits.
Obligatory warning sign photo.  
In all seriousness though, we saw far too many people stepping off of boardwalks and walking through unsafe areas.  The ground around thermal areas can be quite thin and the possibility of falling through and serious injury or death is too high to risk.  Stay on the boardwalks and marked paths.  
The terraces at Mammoth.  These are step-like thermal features that tend to move and shift over the years.  The dormant ones leave big white, empty spaces behind.  The coloring comes from tiny organisms called thermophiles.  These thrive in the hot water of the hot springs and other thermal features of Yellowstone National Park.  
You an opt to stick to the nice and flat boardwalks, or you can climb up and get a bird’s eye view of the terraces at Mammoth. 
Greta and her grandparents relaxing. 

My sister, Caroline and her husband, Brady. 
Eric and I went on a baby-free beautiful hike the following morning.  Thanks, Dad for the babysitting!

This sky is so blue it looks fake.  I could look at this sky all day.  

The hike was through the wide open sagebrush filled alpine meadows that make Mammoth as beautiful as it is.  
We found plenty of elk evidence. 
That evening, we drove on the Old Gardiner Road, next time I hope to bike this road.  This is the original road taken into Yellowstone by the stagecoaches.  It is now a one way road, leaving Yellowstone and ending at the North Entrance, or the Roosevelt Arch. 

It has soaring vistas, little to no human traffic, and meanders through the gorgeous countryside. 

It’s unreal, right?
We stopped for a (fussy) family portrait. 
We saw this pronghorn grazing along the road, as well as a collared coyote.  Alas, no photo of the coyote. 
Our ending point, the North Entrance.  We had a picnic and celebrated my sister’s birthday at the picnic grounds that are literally on the other side of this arch.  I always thought Caroline was so lucky to be able to have these views on her birthday.  

Western Vacation: Red Lodge, Montana and the Beartooth

Whew!  I’m back and I bet you didn’t even know I was gone.  We were on a whirlwind tour of the United States these past two weeks.  We saw everything from black bears, bison, and geysers to bacon wrapped corn dogs, butter cows, and Midwest thunderstorms.  The next few entries will fill you in.  
I’ve been dreaming of the mountain air all summer. 
It took a few flights to get us to that mountain air – we were up at 3:30 AM to catch our 6 AM flight and begin our trip.
The Detroit airport is always lovely with its Northern Lights tunnel.  Next stop, Minneapolis.  
Greta enjoyed looking out airplane windows for the first time. 
We landed in Billings, Montana around noon.  These are the rim rocks, you drive down through them to get from the airport to the rest of the town.  We were in Billings a mere minutes this trip.  Previous trips allowed much more time, as my grandparents were residents at one point.  If you have time, swing through the Yellowstone County Museum, just outside of the airport.  This small museum hosts an impressive array of Western artifacts, a Northern Pacific engine, and a (stuffed) two-headed calf.  
We headed on to Red Lodge, Montana for the night.  Once there, we realized were going to be sharing this former mining, turned ski town with a classic car show.  The main drag of this town is something straight out of a Western classic film.  
We stayed at The Pollard.  This is a beautifully restored hotel with nice rooms, a great dining room, and nice seating around a fire place.  
We spent some quality time in the lobby of The Pollard.  The best part of The Pollard – the complimentary breakfast.  Might I suggest the Grand Marnier French Toast?  I had been perusing their menu weeks in advance of this trip and knew I was going to order that very item.  It did not disappoint.  
After breakfast, we packed up our things and headed out on a walk through the main drag, N Broadway.  There are lots of quaint shops, restaurants, bars, and art galleries to keep even the most serious shoppers interested.  Red Lodge Ales are brewed here, so if you are a craft beer enthusiast, add them to your beer bucket list.  
By the time we reached Rock Creek, we had already lost one member of the party.  Can you guess who?  Side note about places other than the South: I love being able to comfortably wear jeans and shoes in the summer!
After Rock Creek, we headed back to the pack into the car once again.  This time we had some climbing to do – we were heading over the Beartooth Pass via the Beartooth Highway and into Yellowstone National Park. 
Dina was ready for the ride!  The Beartooth Highway is a 67 mile stretch of Highway 212 that runs from Red Lodge, Montana to the east entrance of Yellowstone.  It is easily in my top 5 scenic drives, and one of the most beautiful mountain drives in the country.  Be sure and check out the Top of the World store near the top.  
Up and 
up we go.  
Obligatory Dina shot. 

We stopped at the first overlook with parking to catch the views and our breath.  
The path to our mountain overlook.
My family plus my sister and her husband. 
The road below us.
The second stop allowed us to walk out into a rocky alpine field. 
We hurried back to the car as a storm rolled in.  
We rolled into Yellowstone in early afternoon and had been driving in the park for no more than ten minutes and we saw our first bear!  This shot was taken from a car window, it is NEVER safe to approach bears.  
Driving on we came across this herd of bison in Lamar Valley.  
Bison should NEVER be approached, either.  The young bison were fun to watch – they ran, chased and head butted one another.  
This is the beautiful Lamar Valley.  We continued on to Mammoth.  Look for the next post on Mammoth Hot Springs.