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Trip Report: Yellowstone & Grand Teton (8/29-9/8/2012)

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Trip Report: Yellowstone & Grand Teton (8/29-9/8/2012)

Here is our trip report for our recent trip to Yellowstone & Grand Teton. We learned so much from this site and reading other’s trip reports that I thought I should take the time to share our trip. Thanks to all that have taken the time to do this in the past and take the time to answer many questions on the forums. You have all been so helpful in the planning of this trip and I could not have managed without all your help. I hope someone finds my trip report helpful – even though it’s wordy and probably too long.

A little about us. We are a couple in our 40’s with no children. We both enjoy the outdoors. Living in Florida we especially enjoy getting away to the mountains for the scenery and cooler weather. We enjoy short day hikes – usually not more than 5 miles or so depending on the terrain. Husband likes photography and fishing. Hubby was in Yellowstone in October of 2005 for 4 days doing some work with DNC. He stayed in Gardiner and was able to get a very quick overview of Yellowstone at that time. This is my first trip to the area. This trip was to celebrate our 19th Wedding Anniversary.

I wear a pedometer every day and will be reporting how many miles we walked each day. I have tested it with my GPS watch and it is pretty accurate.

I have done reviews for our lodging & most of our meals so I will not go into detail on those in our trip report.

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1. Re: Trip Report: Yellowstone & Grand Teton (8/29-9/8/2012)

Day 1 – Wednesday, August 29

The alarm was set for 3am to get us to Tampa in time for our 6am flight. You know the Disney commercial “I’m too excited to sleep”? Well that was me. Between the excitement and worrying the alarm wouldn’t work (that always worries me when I have to get up really early for something) we only got between 2-3 hours sleep and was up before the alarm. We flew (Delta) Tampa to Atlanta to Salt Lake to Jackson. We only had short layovers so I was a bit worried but every flight was on time or early and we had no problems. Car rental (Hertz) and getting our bags went pretty smooth so by about 1pm we were on our way to Jackson.

Our first stop was to check in at the Buckrail Lodge. They had a power outage that morning and were running behind on cleaning the rooms so our room wasn’t ready yet. They gave us the keys, we parked the car, and walked to the Snake River Brewing Company for some much needed food & refreshment. Had a little walk through town and then headed back to the Buckrail hoping our room was ready because we were exhausted. It was ready so we took a much needed 2 hour nap.

After our nap we headed out to get supplies. We stopped at the Jackson Hole Buffalo Meat Company to get some Buffalo Summer Sausage and Jerky for our picnics. The woman was very friendly and helpful. They have several different varieties of elk & buffalo summer sausage and jerky and she gave us samples of them all so we could decide which one we liked best. Then we headed across the parking lot to Smith’s Grocery. They had everything we needed to stock our cooler and great customer service. The cashier swiped a discount card so that we could get the discounted prices and the bagger asked us if we wanted any dry ice to keep the food cold. He filled a paper lunch bag with dry ice – complimentary. They also had bear spray for what I thought was a good deal based on prices I’ve seen people mention on here. They had the smaller size of the Counter Assault brand for $29.99. They had the larger cans too but I can’t remember the price. The price was with the discount card but like I said they swiped one for me so I could get the discount. I don’t know if that was a special that week or if they run that every week. Stopped in at the Smith’s Liquor Store for beer. Stopped at the Kmart for a cooler because we didn’t really like the ones they had at Smith’s.

Drove up to Mormon Row and stopped at Moulton Barn. Hubby took pictures of barn, sunset, moon, etc. I watched for wildlife & birds. Saw several Mountain Bluebirds and a Magpie. Stayed until dark.

Back to Buckrail. We got all of our stuff organized and made plans for the next day. This is where the flexibility in planning came into play. The original plan for the next day was a 6am float trip with Solitude. They called the day before we left Florida and asked if we would mind switching because we were the only ones that signed up for it. I was disappointed but cooperated. By the time we come back to Jackson they won’t be running the early morning trip so we switched to a 5:30pm trip. We had still planned to be up early for some sunrise pictures thinking it wouldn’t be a big deal since we would still be on Eastern time. Now everything needed to change. We were so tired from lack of sleep the night before and travelling, I had been fighting with a slight sore throat for a couple of days and was afraid I was going to get sick, and we were both suffering from altitude headaches. So we thought it would be better to get a good night’s sleep and not plan on being anywhere early in the morning. I was somewhat disappointed but knew it was the better thing to do. We set the alarm for 9am.

Miles Walked: 4.14

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2. Re: Trip Report: Yellowstone & Grand Teton (8/29-9/8/2012)

Day 2 – Thursday, August 30

We slept great last night. It was nice and quiet at the Buckrail. We slept until about 8am. We felt so much better!!! We were now extremely glad that the float trip was cancelled and that we decided to sleep in. Our altitude headache was gone and never returned. That is the best we’ve ever done with the altitude sickness thing.

Left about 10am and stopped at Bubba’s for breakfast. Drove through Grand Teton. There was some smoke haze. It was clear enough to view the mountains as we drove but not really clear enough for pictures so we only made a couple of stops. Saw an Osprey being chased by a Raven at Windy Point Turnout.

Arrived at the South Entrance to Yellowstone. We made quick stops at Moose Falls, Lewis Falls, and Grant Village. I was a little confused by the signs at Moose Falls. I wasn’t sure if the whole thing was closed off, but hubby thought it just meant venturing off the main trail so we walked down for a view & pics of the falls. Stopped at West Thumb and walked around. This was my first view of thermal features and I was amazed. Absolutely love the colors! We watched a young Elk stood in the water of Yellowstone Lake. Our first animal sighting. (Okay, not really. We saw a Chipmunk at Grant Village, but this was our first big animal.) After finishing our walk around West Thumb we made a stop at Lake View Turnout and saw another 2 Elk while enjoying the views. We also made a stop at the Kepler Cascades. Saw 2 Ravens “talking” to each other. They make me laugh.

Made it to Old Faithful area & first stop was the visitor center to check eruption times. We had about an hour before Old Faithful would go off and we needed food. We decided on the Obsidian Dining Room at the Snow Lodge. We arrived right at opening so we didn’t have to wait for a table. Dinner lasted long enough that we missed the Old Faithful eruption. We had a look inside the Old Faithful Inn and then decided we should start working our way towards West Yellowstone to avoid driving in the dark. We would have to see Old Faithful another day. We saw our first Bison of the trip just before Fountain Flat Drive. Then we ran into our first “Bison Jam.” There were only 3 but they were trying to get across the road and caused a little back up. We stopped at the first pullout after the Madison campground to have a look at the Madison River. There was a bug hatch going on and the Trout were rising and feeding, sometimes even jumping out of the water. It was fun to watch and hubby was dreaming of fishing. I saw something furry in the water and thought it was a beaver. On closer examination it was a Muskrat. Still cool but I was disappointed. I’ve seen muskrats before but never a beaver. We continued on our way to West Yellowstone and saw several Bison and Elk along the way. Checked in at the Holiday Inn and got unpacked and settled in.

Miles Walked: 5.75

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3. Re: Trip Report: Yellowstone & Grand Teton (8/29-9/8/2012)

Day 3 – Friday, August 31

Entered the park about 7am. The mountains to the north (Gallatin Range I think) were beautiful so we stopped at Mountain Overlook for some pics. Also stopped for some pics of a Bison and young male Elk between West Yellowstone and Madison Junction. We stopped just past Madison Junction at some benches that overlook the Gibbon River to have some breakfast.

At 9am we started on the Firehole Canyon Drive. It took us over an hour with many stops and pics along the way. It was at this point that I began to have a feeling that it was going to take us a lot longer to go through the sites than most people. We made stops (long ones) at Lower Geyser Basin and Midway Geyser Basin. The wind was really blowing the steam all over us at Midway Geyser Basin. It was very difficult to get a decent view of Grand Prismatic from this vantage point. We did, however, get a good look at the hills we would have to climb to get the overhead view. It was now about 1:30pm and we were hungry. Drove up to Old Faithful area and had some lunch at the counter inside the General Store. We had chili and a bbq sandwich. Not bad but nothing great about it. Old Faithful timing didn’t work out again so we will try another day. Now we were tired and needed a nap. Drove up to Whiskey Flats Picnic Area but it was too crowded so we headed further north to the Nez Perce Picnic Area. It was quieter so we parked, put our seats back, and tried to rest. We dozed a little here and there but didn’t really sleep. It’s difficult to get comfortable in the car but at least we got some rest and were ready for more touring. Had fun watching a Chipmunk and a Clarks Nutcracker.

It is now just after 3pm and time for more sights. We did Firehole Lake Drive and Biscuit Basin. At Biscuit Basin a Bison came roaming through and climbed over the boardwalk in two different places and then wandered off. It was fun to watch and I was glad to see everyone respected him and gave him the space to do what he wanted. We also saw lots of Bluebirds. We watched them catching bugs for several minutes. The clouds were really starting to move in and you could see it was raining in other areas. The lack of sun was not the best for taking pictures of the deep pools so we decided it was time to head back to West Yellowstone. We stopped at a couple of spots for pictures on the way back. Saw a Coyote as we drove past the Mary Mountain Trailhead. We drove down Riverside Drive but saw nothing. When we stopped at the end to turn back on the main road toward West Yellowstone we heard an Elk bugle. Also on the way back we saw several people fishing the Firehole and Madison Rivers which were supposed to be closed.

Back in West Yellowstone we took a walk through town and had tacos from the Taco Bus. We stopped in a couple of fly fishing shops and found out the closure on the rivers had been lifted that morning.

Now the being flexible with your plans was coming into play again for several reasons. First, it became obvious that it was taking much longer to get through areas than I had anticipated. There was always another picture needed with a different lens or a different setting. I’m not complaining. The results will be worth it, it just means an adjustment in our scheduling. Originally I thought we could get through all the Geyser Basins in one day. Didn’t happen. We still needed to do the Grand Prismatic overlook, Black Sand Basin and the Old Faithful area. Second, the weather. It was forecast for clouds and scattered rain for Saturday. The original plan called for Canyon but we wanted sun for that day so we made an adjustment to head for Mammoth. Clouds are better for photographing the white travertine. And third, Yellowstone was kicking our butts! LOL! We were exhausted. We originally planned to be up early every day and have long days in the park with a rest stop somewhere in the afternoon. It became obvious that just was not going to work. We amended the plan to alternate between early days and sleep in a bit days.

I started keeping track of the miles we drove each day so,

Miles Driven: 97

Miles Walked: 9.86

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4. Re: Trip Report: Yellowstone & Grand Teton (8/29-9/8/2012)

Day 4 – Saturday, September 1

Arrived into the park about 9am and drove to Mammoth. Grabbed a breakfast sandwich and coffee at the Terrace Grill. Walked the through the Lower Terraces, walked down to the visitor center, and drove the Upper Terraces Drive. Lots of Elk around including one male with huge antlers. Hubby was a little disappointed because the springs have dried up a lot since he saw them 7 years ago. I was not disappointed in seeing them for the first time but did think there was a lot of walking for very little payoff. Back in the car and heading south we stopped at the Hoodoos (Silver Gate), Golden Gate, and Swan Lake Flat for pictures.

About 2:30pm we stopped at Sheepeater Cliff Picnic Area for a late lunch. More Chipmunks and Clarks Nutcrackers. We really enjoyed this picnic area.

Continuing south we stopped at Roaring Mountain before heading down into the Norris Geyser Basin. Norris has some neat features but they are very spread out so it requires a lot of walking. It was about 4pm when we started out here and the clouds were moving in so I had to gently encourage hubby not to take too many pictures. Made it through that without getting rained on. Stopped at the Artists Paintpots even though it looked like rain. Took our rain gear with us and walked the 1/3 mile to the paintpots. Just as we arrived we heard thunder and could see lightning in the distance. Rain is one thing, lightning is another so we headed back to the car. Started to rain lightly just as we got to the car. We headed south and stopped at the first pullout on the right. Clouds were all around but there was one peak that was lit up by the sun. Looked very cool and hubby wanted a picture. He managed a couple of pics before it clouded over and then the floodgates opened up and it poured. We sat in the car for awhile watching the rain & lightning and then it started to hail. Boy were we glad we didn’t stay at the paintpots. When it started to let up we got back on the road to head to West Yellowstone. Somewhere along the way (can’t recall exactly where we were) before reaching Madison Junction there were cars stopped all over the place. People were looking down into a small ravine/canyon. We couldn’t see anything but my guess was that it was a bear. I can’t imagine anything else causing such a big commotion. People were stopped everywhere, darting across the road in the rain. We would have loved to see a bear, but we weren’t going to put our life at risk to do it. It all looked like an accident waiting to happen so we drove through slowly and safely and moved on. Made it to Madison Junction only get into another traffic backup. It was moving very slow until we passed the 2nd or 3rd turnout. Everyone was trying to get into that turnout. We’ve seen elk in that meadow several times so that was our guess. Smooth sailing after that.

We were back in West Yellowstone earlier than expected. The weather was still yucky so we ordered a pizza from Wild West and put a load of laundry in.

By the way, we saw Bison and Elk every day while driving around so I didn’t always make note of exactly where and when we saw them.

Miles Driven: 104

Miles Walked: 9.10

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5. Re: Trip Report: Yellowstone & Grand Teton (8/29-9/8/2012)

Day 5 – Sunday, September 2

Arrived into the park at 6:15am. It was still dark and foggy so we had to drive very slow. Didn’t take long before we had some twilight light and the fog was on and off so the driving was not too bad. This was Lamar Valley day and we wanted to get there as early as possible which is a challenge from West Yellowstone. We didn’t get our hopes up that we would see anything but we figured we would give it our best shot. Stopped at the gas station in Canyon and for a few pictures through Dunraven Pass. I think it was somewhere about 8am that we stopped at Tower Fall. Got coffee and hot chocolate. Unfortunately they do not serve any hot food. I bought a bag of chocolate donuts but hubby turned his nose up at them. He opted for just coffee and that left more donuts for me. We walked over to the Tower Fall viewing area and got some pictures. Just as we were finishing up the fog moved in and obscured the view of the falls. I guess we timed that right. We also bought a 3 day fishing license and some flies for the hubby. He had heard good reports about fishing in the Slough Creek and Soda Butte Creek in Lamar Valley. Extremely nice workers in the Tower General Store.

About 8:45 just past the Slough Creek Campground we hit our first true Bison jam. There were about 30 of them. They came down the hill and onto the road. Then they walked up the road because there was a steep drop off on the other side of the road. It took us about 25 minutes to get through it all. We didn’t mind, this was the most bison we had seen in one place. But that was only the beginning. We got into Lamar Valley and there were hundreds of them. Very cool to see the big herds like that. Drove along watching for any sign of wolves or anything else exciting. In a little while we saw lots of cars and people with scopes. This was what we were looking for. We pulled in and parked next to a yellow Nissan Xterra. I’d read that’s what one of the wolf experts drives so that was an especially good sign. We walked over to one of the little hills that people were stood on and quietly asked what they had seen. Everyone was so kind, helpful, and full of information. The wolves (Lamar Canyon Pack) had been out but were now laying down under some trees. Every once in a while one would raise its head or get up and move. They let us look through their scopes so we could see where they were and then we watched with our binoculars. I saw one raise its head! Yes it was far away and only its head, but I saw a Wolf! Handed the binoculars to hubby and after watching a while he saw it too. It was a female (so we were told) Grey Wolf. She had a bit of brown coloring on her head. I continued to watch while hubby took pictures of the valley & the bison. While watching I saw a black one get up wander a few feet and lay back down. I was so excited and was hooked. I could have stayed there for hours. Actually, we were there for about 2 hours. Hubby watched for more movement but all he ever saw was the head. While there we saw an interesting stand off between a bison and a park ranger trying to head back to the parking lot. The bison won and the ranger retreated. We all actually moved over to the other hill to get out of his way. We also watched as a herd crossed the river – it wasn’t real deep but still fun to watch. We were parked at the pullout that the pack trips leave from. They were all loaded up and we watched them head out into the valley. After that we decided we had seen enough and walked back to the car.

We headed east and stopped at the next pullout. We had yogurt & bananas and just sat and watched several people fishing. Hubby was disappointed. The river was very muddy looking from last nights rain and no one was catching anything. We drove further east and turned around just past Pebble Creek Campground.

12:45pm – Spotted a lone Pronghorn just west of the Yellowstone Institute. While wolf watching one of the rangers had said the males were already gathering their females and then they hide them in sagebrush so we didn’t know if we would get a chance to see any. We felt lucky to see one. What a day this is turning out to be. Drove back to Slough Creek Campground so hubby could check out the fishing possibilities. The Slough Creek didn’t look good today either so he decided he would fish the Madison on the way home. Stopped at Roosevelt Lodge for a late lunch. Loved the atmosphere and the food. Would love to stay in one of those cabins next time.

After eating we headed towards Mammoth Hot Springs, stopping at scenic pullouts along the way. I directed my hubby to drive the Blacktail Plateau Drive. It was 3:30 in the afternoon and I knew our chances were slim but it was the only time we would be in this area so we drove it. I’d read of people seeing bear and moose along this road so I figured it couldn’t hurt. We drove almost the whole thing with nothing then came around a curve to a whole line of cars backed up. We stopped and soon there were several cars behind us stopped. People were getting out and walking up the road. I was thinking that wasn’t safe not knowing what was out there. Finally I got curious and brave and got out. I walked up a little ways where some people were standing and asked what it was. They said moose and pointed. There she was . . . a female moose! My first Moose. She wasn’t very far away and I could see her great with the binoculars. After watching for a few minutes I went back to the car to tell hubby what it was & let him go have a look. Just after getting in the car he saw antlers cross the road ahead. With the cars all he could see was the tops of the antlers. Cars finally started to pull over to the side and we were moving up. A ranger waved us through and as we drove past we got a good view of both of them. I was soooo excited! My day was complete. I didn’t need to see anymore . . . but a bear would be nice.

We drove back towards West Yellowstone. We stopped again at the first pullout after Madison Campground for hubby to do some fishing. He didn’t feel like putting his waders on so he just fished from the shoreline. While he fished I saw the Muskrat again. Also saw Osprey, Mallard Ducks, and a Wilson’s Snipe. (at least that’s what I think it was) The traffic was really backing up so rather than sit in traffic hubby kept fishing while I kept watching for anything that moved. I saw a young male elk in the meadow down river and 2 female elk and a baby upriver near the campground. The traffic didn’t seem to be getting any better and it was almost dark so we gave up and made our way into the traffic jam. Took us a long time to get back to West Yellowstone. We nibbled from the cooler in the hotel room and went to bed . . . tired but happy at all we’d seen today.

Miles Driven: 180

Miles Walked: 1.77

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Nature Coast...
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6. Re: Trip Report: Yellowstone & Grand Teton (8/29-9/8/2012)

Okay I'm halfway through the trip. Sorry its so long. Feel free to ask questions. I'll do my best to get the rest typed up soon.

Nature Coast...
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7. Re: Trip Report: Yellowstone & Grand Teton (8/29-9/8/2012)

Forgot to say that hubby got some strikes but no fish.

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8. Re: Trip Report: Yellowstone & Grand Teton (8/29-9/8/2012)

So far . . . so good! I'm enjoying your trip report and the pictures you're painting of your experiences!

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9. Re: Trip Report: Yellowstone & Grand Teton (8/29-9/8/2012)

You are NOT being too wordy! I love your report and I particularly like that you had your pedometer on. Your days steps in the geyser basins actually are about the same as another poster earlier in the year...averaging around 9-10 miles in the geyser basin without doing any actual *hikes*.

You've had great animal sighting so far as well! There are really some interesting people at the pull-outs, arent there?

Your starting day brought back memories as I used to live in the East Hillsborough area. The good thing about getting to TIA that early is that you miss rush hour, lol!

Can't wait for the rest!

Pam

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10. Re: Trip Report: Yellowstone & Grand Teton (8/29-9/8/2012)

Keep it coming. I am planning my Oct trip and your info is great.