Grand Tetons and Yellowstone National Parks
Visited May 10-18, 2017
The Grand Tetons and Yellowstone are majestic and magical! If you’ve been there, you know I’m right. If you haven’t been, trust me, and Tom’s pictures! We approached them from their western sides, through Idaho. Like Alaska, they are vast lands of spectacular natural wonders and abundant wildlife.
From our homebase in quaint Sheffield RV Park in Rexburg, Idaho, we took a day trip to the Grand Tetons. Their huge, jagged peaks beckoned us from the distance as we drove past miles and miles of farmland. The crop? Yep, surely you guessed potatoes, as far as the eye could see! We didn’t understand the peaked roofs we saw on the ground all around until we got closer and realized they were underground cellars full to the brim.
Teton Pass, at almost 8500 ft elevation, was breathtaking in two ways–stunning and harrowing! We were so glad to NOT be in the RV. We came around the bend into Jackson Hole, Wyoming and got our first up-close, long view of the Grand Tetons, and they are GRAND. I cried. Their beauty against the brilliant, sapphire sky just overwhelmed me and happy tears flowed.
The Craig Thomas Discovery and Visitor Center was our first stop and a fantastic one. The high def movie they show is a must-see–the ending is awesome and unforgettable! We continued north in the park to Jenny Lake where we stopped for a picnic lunch and some hiking. The lake was glassy, a mirror reflection of the sapphire sky, and the mountains still had plenty of snow on them. We hiked half of the trail around the lake which still had snowdrifts that we trekked across and occasionally sank into! Trotting far below, along the shore, we think we saw a wolf because it was so big, but it might have been a coyote. Whichever, it was exciting to watch!
Back in the car, we continued north past Jenny Lake Lodge and Signal Mountain Lodge at Jackson Lake, but neither had opened for the season yet, so we made a loop east and headed back to Jackson Hole along the Snake River side of the park. We had a serendipitous dinner at the famous, historic Silver Dollar Bar and Grill which has over 300 Morgan Silver Dollars inlaid throughout, plus original western artwork, fabulous food, and huge windows that opened right out onto the main street in the seasonable weather! We learned that it was the last night of their off-season menu and the entrees were buy one, get one free, so we ordered the most expensive ones and savored every morsel. What a deal!
A couple days later, in our rig, we entered Yellowstone from the West Entrance. Yellowstone is so big that it reaches into three states–Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming. There are five entrances and it takes hours and hours to drive from one to another. But you don’t mind because there are animal traffic jams to enjoy, elevations and hairpin turns to traverse, overlooks to stop at, waterfalls and other scenic points to hike to, and magnificent mountain scenery to behold and photograph in every direction!
Within 20 minutes of entering the park, we came upon our first bison jam as several of them with their calves ambled along the road. Traffic stopped in both directions and reckless tourists left their vehicles to snap photos. Tom snapped from the sensible safety of our rig. An hour and a half later, we arrived at our site in Fishing Bridge Campground, the perfect homebase for exploring the whole park.
We had entered the park at almost 7000 ft elevation, and the elevations go up in every direction. We saw and experienced plenty of snow and winter landscape in our week there–huge Yellowstone Lake was still mostly frozen! But, because the park is so vast and varied in landscape, we also experienced spring and summer on the other side!
After we set up camp (glamp!), we grabbed our camp chair and cooler and headed out to find a spot to enjoy a Yellowstone happy hour. We backtracked to a spot we’d seen on the way in and it didn’t disappoint. We parked on the side of the road and sat in a meadow near a river, so tranquil. Bears were still hibernating, so we didn’t see any during our stay, but we saw herds upon herds of bison with lots of babies and elk, plus bald eagles, coyotes, and a big horn sheep that walked right next to our car and turned its head toward Tom just as he snapped a pic!
Our first Sunday there was Mother’s Day and we left our RV before dawn to catch sunrise over Yellowstone Lake before continuing the one-and-a-half-hour drive to see Old Faithful and have brunch in the historic lodge. We bundled up for the frigid 29-degree morning and arrived at Old Faithful about 7:30am for my Mother’s Day miracle—there was not one person on the boardwalk that surrounds the geyser! Tom and I had the whole place to ourselves and walked all the way around in utter disbelief—of the natural wonder itself and the wonder of no crowds! Every picture I’ve ever seen of Old Faithful has throngs of people surrounding it, but not that morning! They started trickling in minutes later and a small crowd had gathered by the time it erupted. We had brunch and explored the Visitor Center and saw the geyser erupt a couple more times before our morning was over. Other than giving birth, it was the most memorable Mother’s Day I’ve ever had!
Another day, we headed out Yellowstone’s east entrance for a trip to Cody, WY and the Buffalo Bill Center of the West. Wow, that museum is fantastic with five wings full of collections, exhibits, and stories of the Old West, it’s people, wildlife, weapons and art—all fascinating. We should have allowed more time there. On our drive back to camp, we saw herds of elk and pronghorns and our first moose of the whole trip, a mama and her calf munching shrubbery on the side of the road! We turned the car around to watch them for a long while! Back inside Yellowstone, we ventured straight up to the Lake Butte overlook at 8348 ft elevation. There are no guardrails and the height is dizzying, but the view is a-maz-ing!
Tom especially loved leaving camp at dawn or dusk to go explore with his camera, by car and on foot, even in the falling snow. As you can see, he got some incredible shots and made some unforgettable memories. He was fascinated by the bubbling hot pots and geysers and wildlife encounters (from a safe distance, of course). The snowfall caused the park roads to close, so again he felt like he had the whole park to himself!
We had at least six inches of snow one night, but we were toasty in our rig. However, the next morning the power went out in the campground and we discovered that we were low on propane. Admittedly, we were still RV newbies (in winter weather) and didn’t think ahead about keeping our tank full. We since learned that our tank wasn’t really low at all, the sensor was wrong, but we didn’t know that then!
The historic Lake Hotel on Yellowstone Lake was nearby, so we headed there for lunch, and found they had no power either. But they had fires roaring in the fireplaces and the restaurant was still functioning, serving a limited menu on paper and plastic and handwriting receipts for gift shop items. We spent a fun couple of hours there and then explored a bit on the cleared but car-less roads before heading back to camp, hoping that the power was restored. The friendly crew in the camp office said there was no way to know when the power would come back and that last year they had lost power once for two weeks, yes, two weeks! We didn’t think we’d have enough propane for our last two days in the park, so we reluctantly decided to cut our stay short, pack up and head out that afternoon. We had to decide quickly so that we had enough time to get to our next destination before dark.
We drove out the Historic Roosevelt Arch at Yellowstone’s north entrance in Gardiner, MT, stopping at the Mammoth Springs Visitor Center on the way. We saw so many bison and newborn calves lounging all over the grounds, wow! We were disappointed to miss the Museum of the National Park Ranger, but it was not open for the season yet. Also, that north road was undergoing lots of construction and there were more than a few nail-biting sections, but again, Tom is a masterful driver of our rig!
I was busy on the phone getting reservations for our next destination in Livingston, MT and semi-frantically trying to find a place to fill our propane! Livingston’s ACE Hardware was right on our route but closing within ten minutes of our arrival. When I explained our need, those wonderful folks stayed open for us and took great care of us. They know how to provide excellent customer service and we are still grateful!
Our magical week in Yellowstone and the Grand Tetons was rounded out by a sweet few days in Livingston, MT. We enjoyed Osen’s RV Park, clean and lovely with superfast internet, the fun railroad museum at the Livingston Depot Center, the historic Empire Movie House, a delish meal at Gil’s Goods Restaurant, and a bargain thrift store where we got several items of warm clothes for Canada and Alaska at just one or two bucks apiece!
Yellowstone and the Grand Tetons are most definitely on our See My America Part 2 itinerary, if not sooner! Tom still says that Yellowstone was his favorite place of our whole trip.