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Yellowstone & GTNP Trip report 9/1/13 - 9/9/13

Saint James, New...
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Yellowstone & GTNP Trip report 9/1/13 - 9/9/13

First off, sorry for the delay in posting this report. We have been back just over 3 weeks but it has been hectic. Secondly I’d like to thank all the people who contribute to this forum. I’ve been reading it for many months preparing for our trip. Your knowledge, suggestions, and experience along with your willingness to share that information is sincerely appreciated. It helped a lot during our trip. This report is long winded but I cut it down as much as I could. If a quick read is your thing, please stop here. You will suffer if you continue.

Quick background, I was born, raised, and live on the north shore of Long Island, New York. (6’-150’ above sea level) I’ve just turned 50 years old and have been married almost 18 years. (no kids) I’m an avid inshore saltwater fisherman who loves the outdoors and spends as much time as I can in it. I have learned how and where to find ‘solitude’ and quiet places outdoors to enjoy beautiful surroundings here even though it is heavily populated. This ‘skill’ helped a lot while in Yellowstone.

I’ve traveled a lot for work over the years and since we lost our dog almost two years ago we have done a lot of pleasure traveling over the last 1-3/4 years. Washington D.C., Grand Canyon, Alaska, The Badlands, and other places around those mentioned along with several other short trips.

Using my research and the things I’ve learned on this forum my basic game plan for our Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Park visit was to ‘keep it simple stupid’. On other trips I tended to over plan and most things are scheduled. On this trip my basic plan was to drive the entire park’s road system and hit all the park entrances. I failed on this front. We did not have time to drive between Mammoth and Tower-Roosevelt. That means I missed the Blacktail Deer Plateau drive and the Petrified Tree. We did however hit all the park’s entrances. I only had a few other ‘must see’ items on my list and those were accomplished.

Sunday, 9/1/13:

We landed at Jackson Hole about 1:00PM. One of the most beautiful scenic landing that I can remember. On the ride down to the rental car facility just outside Jackson Hole my bride noticed me staring out the window and asked “what does this remind you of?” I thought about it for a few seconds and replied “nothing, I’ve never seen anything like this before”. I have done a fair amount of traveling and have seen many things but plains meeting Tetons were new to me.

The rental car company offered us a cooler rental for $3 a day ($27 total) but I figured we can buy one for less. We went to the hardware store to purchase bear spray and a cooler. We got a good deal on the bear spray. (two for $75 with belt holsters) The guy at the hardware store showed us the coolers they had, but also mentioned that we can get a better deal at Kmart. I bought a 48 quart Coleman cooler for $20 at Kmart. Next stop was Albertsons to load up on food and beverages. Albertsons is a very good store with a wide selection of good food and supplies.

We checked into our room at the Parkway Inn. That was very nice and clean and very convenient to Jackson Hole. We spent the afternoon and evening walking around town and enjoying Jackson Hole.

Monday, 9/2/13:

We left the Inn at 7AM and headed toward Yellowstone. We will be staying at Lake Village this night. It was overcast with occasional rain. The rain was light to moderate but that did not slow our trip down at all. We stopped by Lewis Falls and took a walk by Lewis Lake. We then continued up to Grant Village. Stopped by the visitor center and got updated fire information from the ranger. The fire flared up the day before, but the rain seemed to put it back down. This is where I purchased our trail guides for most areas of Yellowstone.

Next stop was the West Thumb Geyser Basin. I found this area interesting. The backdrop of the lake made it very cool. We heard an elk bugling but did not see him. This was the first time I ever heard that sound ‘live’. I tried to look for him but never did catch a glimpse. This walk was the only time we used our rain gear the entire trip.

Continuing north we drove along the lake stopping at several turnouts to admire the views. Even though it was only about 1:30PM we drove around Lake Village to get familiar with the area. We had reservations at the Lake Lodge in a Western Cabin. We saw the yellow cabins and the brown ones. To be perfectly honest we were not impressed. They looked kind of ‘rough’. Not that I mind rough, but my bride thought they looked really shabby. My research indicated the interior was nice.

We decided to see if we can check in early. The clerk was nice and she accommodated us. We drove up to our cabin; it was one of the brown ones the furthest away from the lodge. I liked that. It was right by the woods with plenty of fresh tree rubbings all over. We checked out the room and it was very nice inside. It was recently refurbished and my bride’s mind was now at ease.

The Fishing Bridge was the next area we visited. We stopped by the visitor center and went for a walk along the lake. We wanted to hike the Pelican Creek Trail but it was closed due to people working on the fire precautions. I believe that they were cutting a fire line but am not sure about that. We heard the wood chippers, saws, and heavy equipment.

I decided to drive towards the east entrance. About two miles from the Fishing Bridge we had our first close encounter with some bison. There was a mini bison jam. I pulled over and took some photos. That was a fun drive and it was interesting to see all the fire damage from the fire a few years ago. While my bride thought it ‘awful’ I found some beauty in it all. The ground was green with grasses and shrubs and the new lodge pole pines are a couple of feet tall. We saw a few bison grazing on the hills. We made several stops along the way to and from the east entrance. I kept an eye on rock slopes for moth eating bears, but saw none. Even with all the fire damage it was a beautiful drive.

About 4:30PM we decided to head back to our room. We had 6:15 dinner reservations at the Lake Hotel. We cleaned up and got to the hotel dining room about 6PM. The lobby and dining room were impressive. I had requested a window table when making the reservation. The person seating us led us to a table away from the windows. When I asked about the window table request he said that none were available. Fair enough, but looking to my left I saw one window table open. I asked about sitting there. He said it was ‘reserved’. I politely asked what made that person’s reservation more important than ours? He then went to talk to a manager.

The manager came back and said that a window table will be available in a few minutes. Sure enough five minutes later we were seated at a table with a magnificent view. The service was quick and the food was decent. After dinner we went for a nice walk by the lake.

I dropped my bride off at the room and went back to the Lake Hotel for a cocktail and parooze the gift shop along with the rest of the hotel. I ran into some really nice people (employees and guests) that helped me work on a ‘wildlife viewing’ plan. I made it back to the room and studied maps and “Yellowstone Treasures” for the area. I read the park paper and finalized my next day’s plan along with I went to bed a little after midnight.

Tuesday, 9/3/13:

I woke up before dawn, but it was very foggy outside. My plan was to scout the Hayden Valley for wildlife at dawn. Considering the dense fog I delayed my departure for about an hour. For Six miles north of Lake Village the road was posted “no stopping” due to the recent fire activity. You could smell the smoke. The previous day’s rain once again helped a lot. Shortly after those six miles I spotted a big bull elk. He was about 150 yards away and hard to make out in the fog. I pulled off the road to watch and take some photos of him. I stood outside my vehicle and watched him come out of the fog and into clear view.

I was the only human around for over 10 minutes. He was bugling and strutting his stuff, rubbing his rack in the trees. He came as close as 25 yards before I went back into the car. I think he was trying to tell me something and I took the hint.

After that I headed further north into the valley. The fog was lifting and the sun was coming out. Saw plenty of bison and searched for wolves and bears. No luck on that front, but I did talk with a really nice man from Colorado who wolf watched a lot in the park. He gave me tons of good information. Just before 9AM I headed back to the room to pick up my bride and check out of the cabin. We stopped by the grocery store and gift shop on the way out.

We headed to the Mud Volcano and walked the boardwalk area. Some of the thermal features were very interesting. We stopped by quite a few of the side roads and pullouts along the way toward Canyon Village, we will be spending two nights there.

Instead of heading into Canyon Village since it was still early we made a left and headed towards the Norris Geyser Basin. That area was packed and it took a few minutes to find a parking spot. We did all the boardwalk trails and were impressed by the surreal features of the area. The further away from the museum the thinner the crowds were. In the Porcelain Basin area there were a decent amount of people, but by the Back Basin we were practically alone. The whole area looked as it did not belong on earth. It was beautiful.

We entered Canyon Village about 2PM. After lunch I figured that it couldn’t hurt to try and check in early again. Our room in the Cascade Lodge was on the third floor at the end of the building. There is no elevator in the Cascade, but by this time I had adjusted to the altitude and had no problem with the stairs. After we dropped some stuff off we went for a ride.

We did the North Rim drive and made all the stops along the road and took a few quick walks. Inspiration Point was closed however. It looked like some of the concrete on the platform gave way. We saw an osprey on top of a cliff in its nest. While a lot of people were interested I was only interested in playing with my rented lens (Canon EF 100-400) so I took some photos of the raptor. I see a lot of osprey at home and while I enjoy watching them I wanted to see some things I don’t commonly see so we moved on.

We drove around to the South Rim and walked to Artist’s Point. The view of Lower Falls was spectacular. We walked the trail and just enjoyed the canyon views and the Yellowstone River. In total we spent a few hours in the canyon area enjoying the scenery.

Since it was getting closer to sunset I wanted to head back to Hayden Valley. My bride came along and we found our ‘spot’ after another minor bison jam. I also saw a bison who for no apparent reason other than being there hit the side of a car with his horns. The bison was about 25 feet in front of me walking with a cow. I guess he wanted to make sure the guy in the car did not take his female. He did put a nice dent in the car.

There were quite a few more people at Hayden Valley during dusk than there were at dawn. There were now about 20 as opposed to 5. We watched the sunset over the valley and saw a large elk herd come out of the forest. With the river in the foreground and bison all around the elk herd was cool to see. No bears, no wolves but I did have another nice conversation with the man from Colorado.

By the time we got back to the room and cleaned up neither one of us felt like going into the village for something to eat. It was a long day. This became raid the cooler and junk food supper night. Studied some more then watched a movie on the Ipad and went to bed about 1AM. A heavy rainstorm less lightning moved through overnight.

Wednesday 9/4/13:

I got up and was on the road at the crack of dawn. I headed once again to the Hayden Valley. Only four other people were there, it was a clear crisp morning; perfect for wildlife watching. The really nice man from Colorado was already set up with his scope but nothing doing yet. As I was scouting the area I watched an adolescent bald eagle soar around for about ten minutes. I lost sight of him after he made a dive for breakfast.

Not long after that a wolf was spotted. Now I am stoked! I could make her out with my binoculars fairly well, but she was too far out for a (good) photograph. She was a beautiful white wolf. Shortly after seeing the white wolf her two cubs (both black and born in this spring) came over the hill with a grey wolf (babysitter). The grey wolf laid down in the grass as the two black cubs harassed him. They were jumping on him and nipping, general roughhousing I guess. When the grey wolf seemed to have had enough he jumped up and backed off the young ones. While young; they were not all that small anymore.

Momma saw this and was not happy. She displayed her displeasure with the grey wolf. Shortly after that the black cubs were playing with each other and occasionally banging into the grey. The only reason I know the backstory to the wolves was thanks to the man from Colorado. He comes to Yellowstone several times a year to watch wolves. He was very nice and very knowledgeable. There was another extremely knowledgeable woman who frequents the park there that morning too. They both taught me a lot about these wolves and let me watch them through their spotting scopes for a good long while. (I know the etiquette) I sincerely thanked them for being so nice. While the binoculars were good, the spotting scope was great! I could easily see the facial features of the wolves. After a solid 45 minutes of wolf watching they went over a draw, into a valley and out of sight. It was a little after 7AM.

At that time several more people started showing up. Most were bummed that they missed the wolves but were settling in to see if they would reappear. They wouldn’t be disappointed for long.

About 7:15AM a fairly large grizzly was spotted heading in our general direction. He was about ¾ of a mile out. He was walking like he had a place to be. I was impressed by the amount of ground the bear covered in a short time. I snapped a few photos with my 250mm lens but realized I left the rented lens (100-400mm) in the SUV parked in the pullout a few hundred yards away. I was on the west side of the road so I headed down the hill across the road toward the vehicle. Since the grizzly was heading east-southeast I figured he would cross the road about 200-300 yards south of me.

I quickly changed lenses, mounted the camera on the monopod and took a few steps down the road before I spotted the grizzly coming down the hill. I stopped in my tracks but there were a few people on the opposite side (further south) and one man in front of me. The guy in front of me stepped behind a tree. He was about 40 yards from the bear. I stayed put in the road but was a little closer that I would have liked. The grizzly was about 70 yards in front of me. I fully understand that I am supposed to give the bear at least 100 yards but there was nothing I could do at this point. I miscalculated his direction or he changed his path coming over the hill.

Not wanting to make any sudden movements I did not raise my camera that I was holding with my arm straight down to take any photos. So far the bear was ignoring me. I waited about 20-30 seconds until he was clearly past me and almost completely across the road before I lifted my hand to snap a few photos with the point and shoot camera I had in my other hand. (backup camera)

The bear never paid me or anyone else any attention. There was the one guy in front of me and about six people on the other side. Those people on the other side were as close as 20 yards from the bear; one was even moving closer! The grizzly continued his path and went down the embankment and into the river. He swam across the river, came out on the other side and made his way to the forest. I watched and photographed him from on top of the embankment. All totaled it was a solid 30+ minutes of watching this grizzly.

After the bear was pretty far out and close to the tree line I headed back up the hill. By this time most everyone was off the hill watching that bear. There were only a couple of people that remained to see if the wolves would reappear. Literally a couple of minutes later another grizzly appeared! This one came out from approximately the same area the previous bear did. This grizzly did not make his way toward the road; he just hung out on the ridge. After 15 minutes or so he headed back into the tree line.

At this point it was a little after 8AM and the wildlife sightings were off the charts! 4 wolves, 2 bears, a bald eagle, along with quite a few bison. I had told my bride that I would be back by 9AM but I really didn’t see how it could get any better. Lots of people were now around (40+) so I figured that the prime wildlife watching window was closed.

I headed back to the room and got there ‘early’ about 8:30. My wife saw the look on my face and she said “you’re early. You must have had a great morning!” I most certainly did.

After my bride finished getting ready for the day we went to the restaurant for breakfast. This was Beartooth Highway day! After having a decent buffet we hit the grocery store and restocked the cooler. We were on the road by 11:00AM. A little later than I had originally planned but it would still work.

We drove over the Dunraven Pass toward Tower-Roosevelt. We made several stops along the way to admire the scenery in front of us. My bride’s ‘edge awareness’ kicked in a few times but she enjoyed the ride. We got stuck in the construction delay near Tower for about 20 minutes. I wandered around and just enjoyed the magnificent scenery all around. I can think, of and have seen 1,000 worse places to get stuck in traffic.

After we cleared the construction we made the turn towards the northeast entrance. We stopped quite a few times. Lamar Valley seemed desolate on this day. We stopped at several (I think all) pullouts but given it was the middle of the day wildlife seemed to be all bedded down or in the deep forests. We saw one pronghorn and a two bison herds and that was it.

After exiting the northeast entrance we stopped in Cooke City for gas. I know ‘too much information’ but that gas station had the cleanest port-a-potty I’ve ever seen. The drive to and along the Beartooth Highway was simply amazing! My bride was holding on and had sweaty palms but otherwise doing fine. We got stuck in the construction of the bridge for about 15 minutes. Beautiful surroundings made it a pleasant rest stop. Once on the Beartooth Highway we stopped at pretty much every place we could. It was lightly raining here and there. Most of the ride it was glorious sunshine. It was also noticeably cooler. Being so high up I expected that. I had my GoPro mounted on the windshield and that took some cool videos.

We made it to the Rock Creek Vista and walked around for a bit. I seriously contemplated continuing onto Red Lodge but it was now 3:30PM. I did want to stop in Lamar Valley on the way back so I decided to turn around here. I was unsure on how long the construction delays would be. The ride back was just as magnificent. By this time I learned to make my bride aware before making any movement to pull over at a turnout. The few times that I didn’t on the ride out she must have thought I was going all Thelma and Louise or something. Boy did she NOT like that!

On the way back we timed the construction delays perfectly. We were held up less than five minutes combined.

We stopped a few times in Lamar Valley and saw a mature bald eagle fly right past us. That was cool. We made it back to Canyon Village at precisely 7:00PM. My initial estimate of the drive taking 8 hours was spot on! (I was very proud of myself) The playlist I made up for the ride worked out GREAT! You can’t imagine the smile on my face when we saw the ‘Welcome to Montana’ sign as Jimmy Buffet’s ‘Come Monday’ was playing. It was right at the part:

“I can't help it honey

You're that much a part of me now

Remember that night in Montana

When we said there'd be no room for doubt

I hope you're enjoying the scenery

I know that it's pretty up there

We can go hiking on Tuesday

With you I’d walk anywhere”

That made my day. We cleaned up and went to the restaurant for dinner. By the time I finished repacking gear and clothes, studying the map, read some information about the park, (Yellowstone Treasures) it was about midnight. Time for bed.

Thursday 9/5/13:

I got up at the crack of dawn (again) to head back to Hayden Valley. After the previous day’s sights I was pretty anxious to get there. Much to my disappointment it was foggy. The fog was very thick once I got to the valley. Visibility was about ¼ mile at best. Not the best conditions to view wildlife that’s for sure. The hill I spent the past few mornings on was packed. I counted over 50 people up there. Word must have gotten out about the previous day’s sightings. I decided not to make it 51. I took a walk in the opposite direction through some trees and sat on a hill overlooking the river. Not that I could see the river, but I knew it was there. I just wanted to get away from the crowd. The fog was lifting but very slowly. It was a beautiful and tranquil scene none the less.

I only stayed there about an hour on the very quiet wooded hilltop. I headed back to the Lower Falls to see that as the morning sun was trying to poke its way through. There were only a couple of people there and it was beautiful. The early morning soft light is nicer than the afternoon sun for seeing the canyon in my opinion. I went for a walk down the trail then decided to head back to the room. The 9AM taxi would be a little early again today. I picked up my bride and checked out of the room. The plan today was to head to Mammoth and make plenty of stops along the way.

My original plan was to head over Dunraven Pass again (since my bride liked it so much the day before!) to Tower-Roosevelt then head west to Mammoth. Given the likelihood of a lengthy construction delay I changed it up and headed toward Norris. Made a right and headed north and stopped off at the museum. Next stop was at Roaring Mountain. My jaw dropped when I saw the mountain; now this was freaky looking. A mountainside venting vapors out of dozens of spots. I know we saw other thermal features like Dragon’s Mouth but this mountain should have been called “Sleeping Dragon”. I wouldn’t want to be around when it wakes up!

Heading further north we made several more stops. We saw a pair of mule deer bucks and I took some good photos of them. They were kind enough to be close to a pullout and not in a rush. We continued north and stopped at Sheepeater Cliff. We watched two young kids climbing the rocks. They were very good rock climbers and close to the top. I asked their grandmother watching them if she noticed the fallen rocks all along the face of Sheepeater’s Cliff. She did, and then I said “you know how they got there right?” We took a nice hike along the river here. Not another soul around and I taught my bride some ‘bear aware’ skills.

Next stop was Mammoth, or so I thought. I just had to make a couple of stops at the pullouts when we were going through the pass. We heard and saw quite a few elk in the valley and watched them for a few minutes. The males were really making a racket, two of them seemed to be positioning for a battle but one thought better of it and left.

We passed by the Upper Terraces area figuring to hit that on the way back. We parked in the Lower Terraces lot and I was mapping out our walking plan when my bride mentioned that she was getting hungry. I figured that we should go into town and get something to eat now as opposed to after the walk. It was hot and bright sunshine so better to do that walk with something in your stomach. We went to the grill and our timing was perfect. It was noon but we walked right up and placed our order. (Chicken sandwiches) A couple of minutes later as I sat down with our sandwiches I saw the line going out the door.

After lunch we went to the museum and found that very interesting. We stuck around and watched one of the video presentations. We then went back to the Lower Terraces and walked the boardwalks. Yet again another very surreal place. It just did not seem to fit in with anything my mind has known. It did not belong here, but there it was. We drove up to the Upper Terraces drive and pulled over multiple times to see the freakishly beautiful landscape.

It was time to hit the road as we still had a lot to do today. The final destination for the day was the Old Faithful Snow Lodge. Our reservations were for a lodge room for two nights. We headed south and did not stop until we got to the Lower Geyser Basin. I noted a few places that we will see the following day along the way. We walked around the Lower Geyser Basin. We spent a decent amount of time in the area.

I decided to save the Midway Geyser Basin for tomorrow.

Seeing as it was already 4:30PM this would be the first day that we did not check into our room early. I went inside to check in and figure out where to park. While waiting the bellhop gave me the skinny about the property. He was very nice and thorough. The best piece of information he gave me was that I can (legally) walk around with my own frosty adult beverage anywhere less the bars and restaurants. I could bring it in there too he said, but they will charge me for it. Good to know.

The bellman helped us to our first floor room and we were impressed with the room and the lodge itself. We thought it was the best accommodations we had while in the park. Seeing that Old Faithful was scheduled to erupt in about 30 minutes we did a quick unpack. I grabbed my camera and tall cold one and went for a walk. The viewing area was not crowded. Having never seen a geyser erupt before I was looking forward to it.

Old Faithful was about five minutes late according to the posted time but it did impress. The sky was clear blue so it made the geyser stand out. About 1/3rd of the way through the eruption a rainbow appeared. I thought to myself as sipping from my brew that it just does not get much better than this. I know I’ve said this several times, but that was cool!

After the eruption we did a quick walk around then headed back to the room. We had an 8:15 dinner reservation at the Old Faithful Inn Dining Room. My bride asked if she needed to bring the bear spray. I told her I’m bringing mine. While it was a short walk it was dark and bears could be anywhere. We were seated promptly and I really liked the ‘vibe’ of the restaurant. Our waiter was very nice and did a good job. He even talked me into going outside of my comfort zone regarding food. (I generally don’t like to try ‘new’ things) I ordered the chicken and pasta special. A few minutes later he came back and was very apologetic. He informed me they were out of the special since it was so good. I guess that’s what I get for trying something new. I went right back to the comfort of a New York Strip Steak. Dinner was good but nothing great. The ambiance certainly was fantastic.

After dinner we wondered around the lobby and paroozed the gift shops. On the way back to the room a quick stop by the grocery store was needed to stock the mini fridge that was in our room. We wanted to do some laundry but my bride was worried that it was after the 10PM ‘closing time’. (It was about 10:15) I informed her that the posted time is merely a ‘suggestion’ and that I’d take care of it.

The SUV was parked couple of hundred yards away in a gravel lot. I armed myself with bear spray and a flashlight to make a few organizational trips. Once I got far enough from the lodge and my eyes adjusted the night sky really jumped out at me. It was a new moon and a crystal clear night. I was mesmerized staring into the night sky. I saw several shooting stars and you can see flashes of distant lightning to the north but no clouds. A quick check of my radar app showed a thunderstorm in Bozeman. I sat on the hood of the SUV and just stared up for about 10 minutes. I was so excited that I just had to get my bride to see this.

I went inside and put the laundry into the dryer then went back to the room. I told my wife that she HAS to come outside and see something. She was reading but agreed. (Humoring me I am sure) She was impressed but felt a little ‘creepy’ going too far away from the lodge. She did see a shooting star and distant lightning before going back inside. I went for a walk into the darkness and just enjoyed the view. Eventually I picked up the laundry and went back to the room. It was almost midnight and I had to make my plan of attack for the next day. I went to sleep about 1AM.

Friday 9/6/13:

Not having formulated a very good wildlife searching plan for the ‘dawn rush’ as I like to call it; I decided to not leave at the crack of dawn today. It was going to be another long day so no need to overdo it I guess. I got up around 7AM and we got ready for the day. We ate breakfast in the restaurant in the Snow Lodge and it was very good. Our waiter (Ryan from Arizona) was really good and had a great sense of humor. After breakfast we timed it to watch Old Faithful once again erupt. A visit to the visitor’s center was next to try and see what time some other geysers would erupt. I put together a tentative plan and we started touring the upper geyser basin.

We took the paved path to the Morning Glory Pool and stopped at every feature on the way. Once again many ‘freaky’ features to be seen here. The Morning Glory Pool particularly interested me. The bright colors and make up of it ‘caught’ me. It made me really look forward to what was planned for about noontime. (Grand Prismatic Spring from atop the hill with the noon sun, a high ‘must see’) On the way back from the Morning Glory Pool we saw Grotto Geyser erupt. Not as impressive as Old Faithful but cool none the less.

From there we walked the boardwalk to see the other thermal features. Many steaming and venting geysers with a bright blue sky were an interesting sight. Really made me think about the fact we were walking atop a super volcano. We stopped at all the thermal features and noticed quite a few people sitting by Grand Geyser. Seeing it was due to erupt over an hour before (+- 1-1/2 hours) I figured it was close so I decided to stay. Castle Geyser was just starting to erupt and it was easy to see from where we were. My bride decided to get a closer look, and also wanted to go back to the room and change. It was hot and sunny and she was sticky. She left and I stayed.

About 15 minutes later Grand Geyser started acting up. The pool was filling and the geyser guys (the guys with walkie talkies and notepads) were chattering. While waiting I was talking to a couple from Virginia about how reassuring it was to be sitting on top of a massive volcano with geysers going off all around us. What could go wrong? Grand and Turban Geysers then started putting on a show. Not knowing the particulars I did not know at the time that Grand Geyser erupts twice with the second eruption noticeably larger than the first. The ground shook right before the second eruption and BOY was it impressive. The geyser guy standing behind me seemed a little too into it. He was obviously very excited and happy. To each their own I guess, at least he was (very) happy. After Grand Geyser finished to a standing ovation I headed back to the room.

I picked up my bride and headed to the Midway Geyser Basin. As we were exiting the SUV I noticed some storm clouds to the southwest and the wind was picking up. I put two emergency ponchos and garbage bag (for the camera) into my pocket. We walked the boardwalk and seeing Grand Prismatic Spring at eye level was cool. By this time the wind was really picking up. We saw that a few people apparently lost their hats into the Excelsior Geyser.

My plan now was to go to the Fairy Falls Trail and hike up the hill to see Grand Prismatic Spring from above. Given the conditions I nixed that plan. The sun was not out and the wind was causing a rippling effect on the spring. If we were going up that hill I wanted the conditions to be better.

I decided to head toward Madison. On the way we drove down Firehole Lake Drive. By pure chance we saw a geyser erupt just as we were about to pull away from it. Again, that was pretty cool. Once in Madison we stopped in the Information Station to talk to a Ranger. I asked about current wildlife sightings and just some chit chat. I asked him what the geyser’s name on Firehole Lake drive was and he told me that it was White Dome Geyser.

One of my goals of the trip was to see all the park’s entrances. (Why, I am unsure) We headed to the west entrance. We stopped a few times along the way and saw a herd of elk bedded down in a field. We took a couple of walks and had a nice relaxing time. On the way back to Old Faithful Village we made a few more stops just to look around. Once back in the village we did some gift shop paroozing and supply fetching at the general store.

Now that the crowd was very light we decided to watch Old Faithful since it was due to erupt right at sunset. I grabbed a tall cold one and we were off. I should have went to the east side for a different angle to try to get some photos of the eruption with the sunset in the background; but I didn’t. I was pretty transfixed with the color of the sunset behind the Old Faithful Inn though. It lit the inn up in a beautiful display of colors.

After the eruption was over we headed back to the room to shower and relax a bit. We went to the restaurant but since there was a wait my bride thought it was better to just grab a bite at the bar. The wings were good. Back to the room to study some maps and make my game plan for the following day. On one of my trips outside I walked over to Old Faithful and watched it erupt. It was pretty cool to see at night with only a two other people around. I then went into the grocery store. On the way out I turned the corner and there was a big bull bison standing 10 yards in front of me! I backed off and gave him a wide berth. Back to the room and watched a movie on the Ipad and got to bed a little after midnight.

Saturday 9/7/13:

Now armed with a plan I got up before dawn to search out some wildlife. My bride decided to come with me this morning and that was nice. We drove towards West Thumb. Stopped at Kepler Cascades, Scaup Lake, and a couple of pullouts along the way. We saw an elk cow really close to the road. I pulled off and took a few photos of her. She was being quite vocal. I ‘felt’ something was behind her so I took a photo of the thick brush behind her. I did not know until I saw it on the computer at home that there was a big bull elk lurking there. The picture came out pretty well. We then saw a small lake just before West Thumb so I pulled over. We walked down the embankment to the water. It was very serene in there with no one else was around.

We walked the shores for a bit and I showed my bride some bear scat. (The things we do for love!) It was very fresh, a couple of hours old at most. The grizzly tracks around were likewise. There was also some older scat and tracks around so I knew I was in the right area. While this excited me it made my bride nervous. I tried to get her to walk some more to the other side of the pond, but that wasn’t going to happen so we headed back to Old Faithful Village.

Packed up our stuff and went to have breakfast in the dining room. After a filling breakfast we headed back to the Midway Geyser Basin. The sun was out so we parked in the Fairy Falls Trail parking lot and headed down the trail. We got to the hill across from Grand Prismatic Spring and started ascending. It was very steep and downed trees were all over. After about 1/3 of the way up my bride hit the wall. I stayed with her until she caught her breath then headed up the rest of the way. I left her armed with bear spray. I offered to walk back down with her then go up solo but she said that she would just wait there.

It got steeper yet for a bit but then finally became more manageable. I paused a few times for a sip of water but never looked back. I did not want to see Grand Prismatic Spring until I reached the top. Once on top I drank some water and caught my breath before turning around. I passed only one other person going up and they said “it’s a hell of a hike but well worth it”.

After a minute or so I finally turned around. WOW what a sight! The sun was high in the sky and with no wind the spring was an amazing thing to see. I took some photos (none could ever do it justice) and just looked at it for about 15-20 minutes. There was not another person anywhere near me the whole time, it was great.

I have knee issues (already five orthoscopic surgeries) and going down is by far worse than going up. (hills or stairs) I gingerly made my way down to a spot where I could have gone left or right. Instead of guessing I called out to my bride. She replied so I knew to make the right. In a few minutes I came across her talking to another person. That guy was as far up as he was going to go also.

I helped my wife down the rest of the hill by letting her balance herself with an arm on my back. She scooted down part of the way on her butt. Once we got back to the trail I let her know how proud I was of her for going that far. It was a fairly intense hike and she did it like a trooper. She never complained and knew when to stop. That is a good thing. We walked back to the SUV and dusted off and got on the road. Destination is now Teton Village where we will be spending two nights.

We drove to West Thumb then headed south. We stopped by Lewis Lake and Lewis Falls and a few other pullouts on the way. Once we exited the park I had to stop to take the customary photo by the “Welcome to Yellowstone” sign. I waited my turn for my photo op. I even got my bride to pose in front of the sign. (A rarity)

The weather started to get cloudy as we headed south. As the Tetons came into view we made several stops along the way. The clouds forming on the peaks made some mountains look like volcanoes. It was very cool looking. We stopped off a few more times on the way to admire the Tetons. I should have studied my map more carefully but to be honest I really did not look at the Grand Teton National Park map very much. I figured that I would do that once we got to the hotel in Teton Village. If I studied it prior I would have known that there was a more scenic shortcut I could have taken through the park instead of going around. Live and learn.

We drove through Jackson Hole and headed towards Teton Village. Once getting into the village the signage is poor to say the least. I had to go around a second time to find our hotel. (Hotel Terra) We checked in and the hotel was very nice. A little too “hip for the room” from what I am used to but when in Rome…

After reorganizing the SUV and getting all the things we needed into the room we took a walk around the village. Not a lot of people around at all. I wanted to go up the tram to The Deck for cocktails on the mountain but it was closed for a private function. So was the nice restaurant up there. We went back to the room and I took a quick shower. I then wondered around the village for a while as my bride kicked back relaxing.

The village was eerily empty. The only places that had people around were the Hotel Terra’s conference room (wedding going on) and the Mangy Moose. The Mangy Moose was filling up with bikers. (Ok, cyclists) There was some long distance road race and Teton Village was the finish line. My wife was more into relaxing (and I think watching television) so I went to the Mangy Moose solo and had some really great ribs. Got back to the room and caught up on world affairs. It was the first ‘news’ I’ve seen in a week. Being in touch is not always a good thing.

Sunday, 9/8/13:

Today was Grand Teton National Park day. We were ready and hit the road at the crack of dawn. We took the Moose Wilson Road and that was a cool drive. I now wish that I had taken it to get to Teton Village the day before. We went down a side road toward a trail. That was a bumpy dirt road, but it was nice to be deep in the woods with no one else around.

Back on the main road we saw a car pulled over ahead of us and another car coming out of the Lawrence S. Rockefeller Preserve. The passenger in the car coming out of the preserve was standing taking photos through the sunroof. Of course I stopped and looked to the left in the direction they were looking.

There was a young brown bear on the hill about 100 yards away. My bride popped out of the car to get a glimpse. She opened the door and stood up, never ventured further. This was her first bear sighting and she was happy. The woman in the car ahead of us accidently bumped her horn as she was undoing her seatbelt. The bear took off over the hill. The lady felt bad and apologized but things happen.

We continued down the road and not far from the preserve we saw a couple of moose. We went for a nice walk along the river. Only other people around were on wildlife tours with guides. It is always nice to get out early and beat the crowds!

We spent the next few hours driving down every side road I could find. We took a nice walk by Jenny Lake. We came real close to a mule deer buck. He was across the trail but I was able to outmaneuver him in order to get some nice photos. That lasted until a couple of people saw what I was doing and ran over. The buck of course took off. We walked down to just about the boating area then headed back.

A little further down the road was Spaulding Bay Road. We drove to the end and there was just one other car there. We took a walk around and the scenery was simply amazing. No people around and it was really quiet. Next side road was the Signal Mountain Road. We drove to the top and took a walk around. It was very cool to see the meadows and mountains from that perspective.

It was getting close to noon and my plan was to have lunch at the Jackson Lake Lodge with a view of the Grand Tetons. Our timing was good but not great. We were seated just before a couple of tour busses pulled in. This would mean a longer wait for food but we were in no rush. The view was spectacular as was the company so what’s the rush?

The groups on the busses were older people. Mostly in their 70’s-80’s I would assume. Watching these people gave me reassurance about choosing to do this trip (and a couple of others last year) sooner rather than later. Having just hit 50 years old time is ticking.

After lunch we walked around the lodge enjoying the views. We drove north for a little bit just to see the Grand Tetons on this mostly sunny day. The peaks looked like volcanoes with the clouds forming around them. I didn’t want to go too far north as the feeling of Yellowstone was pulling at me so I turned around.

We made a few stops on the way back. We stopped by Moose and saw a couple of more moose (mother and calf). The area was much more crowded now than it was in the early morning. It started drizzling too so I was not interested in staying here too long. I don’t mind the rain.

My bride wanted to do a ‘real’ hike and while we did walk around a lot on our trip that is one thing I wish we could have done more of. My wanting to see as much of Yellowstone and The Grand Tetons as possible limited ‘real’ hiking time. I decided that we will do a hike on the Granite Canyon Trail. My intention on this hike was to asides from scenery to see wildlife; preferably a bear or some elk.

I took a quick look at the map and mistakenly (kind of on purpose) estimated the mileage to Phelps Lake. I told my bride it was “about two miles”. Well I knew that this was wrong but I figured we would go as far as time and weather allowed. The weather held up perfectly, it actually was clearing up. As we ascended the peaks popped out sometimes with a crystal clear blue sky behind them. I took a few ‘side hikes’ up to get a better view of the valleys and woods around. We heard an elk but never did see him.

We went up about 3 miles before my bride became suspicious. “How much further?” she asked. My standard replies were ‘just around that bend’ and ‘just a little bit’. That only worked a few times. She knows the goal for me is to see a bear, and she also knows that if left to my own devices I will continue on until I do. She finally asked one of the people hiking down the trail how much further the lake was. He was a very nice man and said that we were a mile or two away. He stopped and chatted for a minute then headed down the trail. He tripped and fell pretty hard. He had a couple of nasty scrapes on his legs and it looked like a finger or two was dislocated or broken. I offered help but he said that he was ok and will catch up to his friends. My bride now felt very guilty. I told her it was not her fault that he fell but she thought otherwise.

We continued up the trail about another ½ a mile and the trail became much steeper. At this point it was close to 4PM and someone was getting cranky. I tried making light of the situation reminding her of the magnificent scenery that is all around us. I also mentioned that there were not many other people around and that’s what we came here for.

Knowing when I lost a battle I agreed to turn around and head back. On the way down an interesting guy passed us. He was packing rope, climbing and skiing gear. I can only assume he did some glacier skiing but that would be nuts! Once in the parking lot my bride saw a snake on the gravel. I never noticed it and walked right over it. We headed back to Teton Village.

I wanted to go up to ‘The Deck’ for sunset cocktails and dinner. We cleaned up and headed toward the tram. On the walk the sky looked menacing. I checked my handy radar app and saw a storm on the other side of the mountain heading our way. I watched as it came over the peak and decided the Mangy Moose was now a better idea. Just as we got into the restaurant it stared to pour. I was bummed that we couldn’t go up the tram. After a good supper we went back to the room, it would be an early travel day tomorrow.

Monday, 9/9/13:

We got up at 4AM to head back to the rental car place in Jackson Hole. Asides from being very dark outside there was a VERY thick fog. Visibility was less than 100 yards in spots. I loaded up the car, gave the cooler and bear spray to the guy at the front desk (I asked if he wanted them) and buckled up. I told my bride “whatever you do DON’T scream!”

That could be taken a few ways but she knew what I meant. It was basically driving while blind. I went slow and followed the yellow lines on the road. Without the GPS there was no way I would have ever seen the intersections. We made it back to the rental car place and the shuttle ride was almost as bad to the airport. Visibility was terrible. It got better and the fog lifted as we got close to the airport. After boarding the plane the stewardess said ‘you have to see this’. I got up and looked out the door and saw the 100’-200’ high fog bank laying in the valley in front of the Grand Tetons heading our way.

By the time we taxied the fog enveloped the plane. We shot down the runway and pretty much as soon as the wheels left the ground we were out of the fog. It was an amazingly cool view. The soft early morning sunlight was illuminating the mountains and the thick fog was blanketing the ground. It was a beautiful way to leave.

We arrived home about 6:30PM. I had a meeting at the marina where I keep my boat at 7:30PM. I dropped off the bags and drove the 3 miles down a winding tree lined road passing the horse farms on the way. I went up to the gazebo that has an unobstructed view of the Long Island Sound. (From the south east corner of Smithtown Bay) I watched the sunset into the Sound before heading inside.

Seeing the sunrise over the Grand Tetons and the sunset into the Long Island Sound (one of my favorite places) made it a fantastic wraparound day. On the way home at 10PM I saw three whitetail deer. The wildlife never ends!

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Atlanta, Georgia
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1. Re: Yellowstone & GTNP Trip report 9/1/13 - 9/9/13

Enjoyed your trip report. Sounds like you had an amazing time in the parks. Thanks for sharing.

N. Idaho
Destination Expert
for Yellowstone National Park
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2. Re: Yellowstone & GTNP Trip report 9/1/13 - 9/9/13

Awesome report! Great day you had with the wolves and griz. Thanks for taking the time to post.

Pam

Spery, Iowa
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3. Re: Yellowstone & GTNP Trip report 9/1/13 - 9/9/13

WOW. LOVE this report. Great trip, and great details. Thanks for sharing! Oh, and I love that you call her your bride :D

Burlington, Iowa...
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4. Re: Yellowstone & GTNP Trip report 9/1/13 - 9/9/13

Thanks for the great and detailed trip report! I felt like I was there! So glad you got some great wildlife sightings and had pretty good weather.

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5. Re: Yellowstone & GTNP Trip report 9/1/13 - 9/9/13

Wow! Thoroughly enjoyed your post, you have a real knack for writing. I feel like I was there too!

USA
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6. Re: Yellowstone & GTNP Trip report 9/1/13 - 9/9/13

This is a great trip report to aid folks in understanding why it can be advantageous to stay in multiple lodgings with the park. It really demonstrates how much is between locations. It's a wonderful trip report that we'll link to the Trip Archives. Thanks for the delightful read.

PA
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1,289 posts
146 reviews
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7. Re: Yellowstone & GTNP Trip report 9/1/13 - 9/9/13

Thanks for a wonderful trip report. Loved the Buffet song quote & its timing on your trip!

I was most impressed with your late nights after early mornings. I was up early on our trip in June but was lucky to make it to 10 PM each night!

Charleston, South...
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324 posts
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8. Re: Yellowstone & GTNP Trip report 9/1/13 - 9/9/13

What a super trip report! Thanks for all of the awesome details. :)

Leesburg, Virginia
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345 posts
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9. Re: Yellowstone & GTNP Trip report 9/1/13 - 9/9/13

Great detailed report! I'm saving it to my trip folder. It will be very useful in helping me plan our days.

10. Re: Yellowstone & GTNP Trip report 9/1/13 - 9/9/13

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