Sunday, October 11, 2015

Wow, that went fast

Hard to believe the week is over already. Tomorrow it's back to work and back to reality. Friday we were up early to make the drive back to Jackson. This time we took the road closer to the Tetons to get a better view. I'd like to check that area out when I'm not just whizzing by. A return trip out west is a definite must.

The flights were the usual flying nightmare. Delays, bad weather. middle seats, no food, and annoying seatmates. We got in about an hour late and didn't get home until almost 1. Man it felt good to sleep in my bed again!Beth's train didn't leave until 1:30 yesterday, so we made a trip to IKEA and TJ Maxx to find a few things for the house. I dropped her off at the station and then went to see the kids. It was the usual chaos there, but it was good to see them. Followed that up with dinner at the parents' house. It was a perfect New England fall day and it felt nice to be home.

The trip reminded me that I want to see more of this country. I had such a good time exploring the area and talking with the people. It was interesting talking to the other tourists and seeing where they were from and why they were there. And there are so many national parks, each with something special to offer. Yes, I want to get back to Italy some day, but this was a reminder that there's so much of my own country to see. I need to make up a list of places to go and start saving up!

Today will consist of football, cooking, and printing pictures to hang on the walls. I'm glad I had the weekend to ease me back into reality. Thanks for following along on yet another trip. Hopefully it won't be so long before the next posting.
It's good to be home!
Day 7 pictures

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Heading home again

Here we are, our last day in Yellowstone. It's hard to believe the trip is wrapping up already. This week just flew by. We had such an amazing time and I'm glad I got to do it with a friend I don't get to spend enough time with. I have so many good memories from this trip and pictures to look back on for the rest of my life.

We took it slow today, got up late, and went out to breakfast. We had heard there was an exhibit at Quake Lake (so named because it was the epicenter of a major earthquake in 1959), so we headed out to see what was there. It was a beautiful drive on winding roads through the canyon along the lake. We saw signs warning us about Big Horned sheep, but sadly didn't see any. We also didn't see the visitor center, as it was boarded up for the season. Bummer. Rather than turn around and head back to town, we decided to keep driving and try to find Virginia City. Virginia City is a ghost town from the gold rush days.

The drive was long and boring. Flat as can be, straight as an arrow, with only the occasional prong horn deer or cattle to look at. It took over an hour, but we finally reached town. Unfortunately, that, too, was boarded up for the winter (imagine a ghost town being closed!). About 15 miles away, we had driven through a town called Ennis, so we went back there to check it out. There was a cute main street with little shops and a few restaurants. More importantly, they had a distillery! And they were open! So we sat down (ok, I sat down) and ordered a drink. It was a very nice whiskey with no burn. I also tasted their honey moonshine, which had a bit more bite to it.
You're falling asleep just looking at this.

We walked through a few more stores and then started the drive back. Still didn't see any sheep. Once we got into town, we swung by the Post Office to mail back our many souvenirs. It would have been too much to fit into our bags. That task completed, we headed over to the IMAX to see what they had. It was a historical account of Yellowstone, not the overview of the park we'd hoped for, but it killed an hour. A few more gifts purchased, we went and got dinner and now we're back at the room to pack up. It'll be an early start tomorrow to make the drive back to Jackson. Our flight leaves at 1, so we'll probably leave around 8 or so. So sad to be leaving here, but it'll be good to get home. At least I have the weekend to adjust to the time change again. So long, West Yellowstone, you've been a great host!

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Hey BooBoo!

There was only one thing left to do today: hunt bears. Having finally acclimated to Mountain Time, we both got up a bit later than the past few days, and we didn't get out of the condo until 9. However, we had nowhere to be today, just a general idea to head to the Hayden Valley where bears are commonly spotted. It was also the last stretch of the loop that we hadn't driven in the park. 

We made a quick stop at Old Faithful station so Beth could get a poster. Then, since it was right next door, we went to Black Sand Basin. It was one of the last geyser basins we hadn't seen. There was nothing too impressive there and we were heading back to the car when a woman stopped us and said "I'm going back to the car, but if you want to see a bear, it's over there." Ah-ha!We damn-near ran to the platform where a man was standing looking off toward the treeline. Sure enough, you could make out the silhouette of a bear. I snapped a few pictures and zoomed in: it was a grizzly! How can you tell a grizzly from a brown bear? If the hump on their neck is higher than their rump, it's a grizzly. We were probably about 200 yards away, a safe enough distance especially given that we were downwind. We stood there a good 10 minutes just watching. The woman came back and said she realized her boyfriend had the keys and if the bear came this way she'd rather be with a group. Finally, the bear disappeared into the trees and we were left in amazement.
He seemed to be foraging for food

As soon as we got in the car, we hit a herd of buffalo crossing the road. There were many buffalo sightings today, some closer than others. Off we went toward the West Thumb. We stopped at the platform there to check out yet more thermal pools, and take in the vast expanse of the inlet. You couldn't see the other shore and that was only an inlet of the main lake!
Green Thumb lake
At this point we were getting kind of hungry, so we headed on towards Fishing Bridge. Unfortunately, when we got there, the area was closed up. Must be a busy place in the summer as there was a huge hotel there and apparently a restaurant that overlooks the lake. There were many buffalo just hanging around in the lot, taking back their piece of the land. 
More buffalo just not giving a damn
We drove on a bit more and entered the Hayden Valley. This was what I had envisioned the entire park looking like, just vast fields and a big river cutting through rolling hills. A few more buffalo sighted we took a break at the Mud Volcano area. More geysers, mud pots, and stinky air. There was one cave called the Dragon's Mouth that steamed and made lots of noise and smell. A LOT of smell. We got out of there and took off to Canyon Village for lunch. There we picked up some random foods at the general store and had a nice chat with two older women from Oregon. They had no idea they were right by the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, so we pointed them towards Artist Point. After we checked out the exhibit on the super volcano we took off back towards home.
Hayden Valley
We made one last stop at Gibbon Falls. We had always seen people stopped there, but you couldn't see the falls from the road, so we finally decided to take a look. They were pretty, but kind of flat as far as waterfalls go. That stop complete, we went on home having completed the entire loop of the park.
Gibbon Falls
It's overcast now, so I was lucky to get those Milky Way photos last night. I think it's supposed to sprinkle tonight and then be cloudy tomorrow. The plan is tacos and margaritas for dinner, and then driving around town and checking out the historical society and maybe the bear and wolf sanctuary tomorrow. We saw everything we wanted to see in the park and I couldn't be happier. A relaxing day off before we head home will be nice. Can't believe this trip is nearly over already. We waited so long for this and had such a good time here, it's going to be hard to go back to the grind. 

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Don't go chasing waterfalls

What a day today was! When we watched the weather this morning, the forecast had changed to it being mostly cloudy tomorrow and Thursday, so we decided that with the last big thing we wanted to see being the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone, we should do that today while it was sunny. Another early start in the fog, but we made it out there at a decent time. The first stop was Artist Point, a view of the Lower Falls, the higher of the two waterfalls.

It was an easy hike to the viewpoint and there was only one other person there. A big difference from the crowds of yesterday. As it turned out, almost all the places we went today were not accessible to buses, and the one or two places that were we arrived just before or after the crowds. It was easy to see where the name "Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone" came from. In some places, it's 1200 feet deep and 4000 feet wide! The colors come from the hot springs in the walls of the canyon. Very impressive.
Lower Falls off in the distance
The next stop on our checklist was Uncle Tom's Trail. This would bring us 3/4 of the way down the cliff face of Lower Falls for an up-close view. The website described the trail as "strenuous" with a set of 328 stairs. Still, we decided the view would be worth it. Unfortunately, I have a fear of heights and falling down stairs, and Beth has no depth perception, so this was quite the monumental task. It did not help that the stairs were metal grates that you could see through to your imminent death. At one point I was going step by step down the stairs, too afraid to go down normally. Once I got to the bottom platform, though, it was so worth the terrifying trip down.
Still managed to smile!
Of course that meant that we had to then go UP the 328 steps to get back to the trail, which also went up to the parking lot. It was slow going, especially with the altitude here (8000+ feet), but there were lots of benches to sit and rest on. Once we made it to the top, we went to Canyon Village to get our Passports stamped, use the facilities, and get lunch. That achieved, we went on to the brink of Upper Falls. As the name explains, you're right on the edge of the waterfall, sort of like the viewing platform at Niagara Falls. Upper Falls is only about 100 feet high, so it's not as impressive.
Upper Falls
Having seen all of the vantage points, and with our legs feeling like jelly, we headed back towards the western side of the park. This morning we also came upon a site that described a trail you could take to see the Grand Prismatic Spring, which if you recall was a great disappointment yesterday. We also discovered that in fact, we had driven straight past the sign for Artist Paintpots the other day, so we decided to hit both of those spots. Unfortunately, Artist Paintpots was a bit of a letdown. I was expecting colors of some sort, but it was just a pool of bubbling mud.
Ooooh, mud.
The last leg of the trip was the Fairy Falls trail to hopefully see the better view of Grand Prismatic. It was a nice wide, and most importantly, level, trail. Not much to look at. Off to the right you could see the spring and the people walking along the boardwalk we were on yesterday. Just as you got even with the spring, there was a little dirt trail going uphill off to the left. We saw footprints on it, so we followed it. It was really steep and not entirely clear where you should be walking, but we just kept going and walking toward the sound of people's voices. Suddenly, we got to an opening and you were overlooking the Grand Prismatic Spring! It was the exact view I'd wanted and had been seeing in all the pictures. I was so so happy we had gone back.

I had one more thing on my Yellowstone trip checklist: getting a picture of the Milky Way. After dinner we drove out of town and found a turn-off to pull into. Thankfully it was in a big field, so I didn't have to worry about an animal coming out of the woods to get me. I looked up and saw more stars than I'd ever seen! They were everywhere! And it was clear where the Milky Way was, a nice band straight over the top of us. I set up the tripod, made sure no cars were coming, and snapped away. It took a few tries to find the right spot, but I discovered that off to the south was the best angle. It was amazing. I even got shooting stars in a few of the pictures. Checklist complete, we went back to the room, ready to rest up for another day of exploration. Not sure what we're going to do tomorrow, but I'm sure it'll be fun!
Sorry about the power lines
Shooting star!
Day 4 Pictures

Monday, October 5, 2015


This is the point in the trip where I don't want to blog. I'm exhausted. I want to go to bed. It's been a long day. But no, I have to write about my day. Forgive me if I don't embellish too much.

It was an early morning, with us out the door around 7:30 or so. The sun had just risen, not that you could see it through the fog. It made driving a little tricky as you could see even less than normal and would have no warning if an animal came into the road. Sure enough, we came around a bend to find a line of cars stopped dead and buffalo just roaming about the road. Again, people got stupidly close to get their pictures. Once the closest ones had crossed the road, we chanced it and snuck by.
No, that buffalo was not ramming the truck.
Our first goal was to visit the Lower Geyser Basin and see the mud pots. Then we would hit the Mid Basin and finally Old Faithful. However, once we arrived we realized we couldn't see anything due to the fog. So we got back in the car and went down to Old Faithful first hoping that the fog would burn off on the drive down. We were able to see a little better but there was still quite a bit of fog. We got to the visitor center just in time to see the geyser erupting through the windows. Damn. The next eruption would be in 90 minutes. So we ate a little snack and went back later to see the full eruption and get pictures.
Ooooh! Water!
Morning Glory. Look how clear it is!
After the eruption, we took a walk to the Morning Glory Pool. This was one of the prismatic pools, hidden amongst the many geysers. On the way there, we saw another geyser eruption. The pool itself was really cool, so colorful and crystal clear. I can't believe how clear the water is here. On the way back we saw a third eruption. Once we were all geysered out we got in the car and went to the Mid Basin. Here was the one feature I really wanted to see, the Grand Prismatic pool. It's in all the pictures and souvenirs here. Sadly, once we got there it was not only bathed in steam, but you were on ground level with it, so you had no angle to see the colors of it.
Can you see the pool? Neither can I.
Disappointed, we decided to head back to the Lower Basin to see some of the stuff that was hidden by the fog in the morning. This proved to be more fruitful as we were better able to see the mud pots and one of the prismatic pools. Having had our fill of geothermal goodness (and having walked 6 miles), we got in the car and went back to the room. A beer greatly helped to ease my aching feet. Now I'm back in the room and ready to snooze. A side note from today: There are about 10 thousand Chinese tourists here now. They're all on big bus tours and invade the sites with their selfie sticks and terrible clothing. Today one girl kept repeating what sounded like "New-SKI!" which apparently means "Cheese" in Chinese. We decided that if we got separated, that would be our code word to find each other. But there was another incident which angered me greatly. We were at the Lower Basin and there are ample boardwalks all over the place. Just follow it and you'll see what you need to see. On top of that, there are a million signs telling you to not step off the boardwalk, lest you fall through the thin top layer and scald yourself. Well this one woman, in her quest to get the ultimate selfie, stepped off the boardwalk and into the geothermal area to place her tripod. We stopped and said something to her, but she just laughed, clearly not understanding us. It just bugged me. What is so damn important about a picture of yourself? It was stupid, dangerous, and most of all disrespectful to the park. It's like they don't even care about the park, it's just something to check off of some list they have of things to see. It really bothers me. 

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Hot Hot Hot

Woke up early today, still running on Eastern Time. But that just gives me time to get more into the day! I woke up so early Beth wasn't up yet, so I killed time by working on the computer and getting ready. By the time I was out of the shower, Beth was up and we were ready to go. Found a really good breakfast spot, filled our bellies and hit the road.

Our first stop would be Bozeman, Montana. For no other reason than there's an REI there :) Couldn't resist the urge to go visit when it was a mere 90 miles away. It was a little weird being in civilization again (there are about 40,000 people there, mostly from the university). But it was the cheapest gas we'd seen, so we fueled up and began the trek back. Instead of going back the way we came, we took another route so we could enter via the North gate.

Not far inside the gate, we made it to Mammoth Hot Springs. This is one of the more famous features in Yellowstone, a series of travertine terraces with hot springs flowing down them. It was really impressive. Not the kind of hot springs you'd want to get into though. There were lots of signs warning you not to step off the walkway, lest you fall through the thin top layer and scald yourself to death. There was a faint smell of sulfur, but not as overpowering as I'd expected. We walked up to one of the terraces, then headed back into town for a bite to eat.

Palette Spring
Minerva Terrace
We took off, expecting to stop at the Painters Pots on the way home. Instead, we got stuck in construction (I can't even escape it here!) which took us right through the turn-off. We realized what had happened about 10 miles later. I was kind of bummed we couldn't see it, but there's so much else we have to see that I knew it wouldn't matter. We decided to head back to town and pick up some food to keep in the condo. Right before we got to the gate, we saw a lot of cars pulled over. Beth said "I hope it's not more buffalo." To which I replied "I know! I'd like to see more elks." I got my wish. There was a small herd in a field with the finally-appearing sunshine bathing them in late-day light. It was beautiful. There was one buck just laying down chilling, and a bunch of females walking around eating. There were several "real" photographers down in the field with their monster lenses getting what I'm sure are spectacular shots. Up on our end, there were several Asian tourists getting uncomfortably close to the elk. Like, they could pet them and almost did. It bothered me that they showed so little respect to the animals, like they only existed for a photo op.

I'd like to see those tourists get that close to this guy!

Side note: While we were taking our pictures, I noticed a man with a massive zoom lens on his Nikon. I asked what lens it was, and it was the very lens I had thought about renting for this trip! I asked how he liked it, to which he replied "I'm really disappointed." Uh oh. Then he went on with a litany of things he didn't like about it, including how Nikon didn't give you a real case for it, only a sock. He let me look through the viewfinder, and I agreed, it wasn't as crystal-clear as I'd expect a $2500 lens to be. I was glad I didn't bother renting it, but sad that my dream lens wasn't what I thought it'd be.

I don't need a fancy zoom!
We got back into town and did some souvenir shopping. I got a really cool Native American bear figurine and some more patches for my backpack. We skipped dinner and went back to the room to have a beer and some of the snacks we'd bought. I think it'll be an early night for me, I'm pretty beat. Tomorrow the plan is to head to all of the geysers and see what's what over in that end of the park. The funny thing is that all day today I kept thinking of the places I wanted to go to when I came back here some time in the future. I'm already planning a return! It's so beautiful here, and it's so vast I know we're only going to scratch the surface this week. It also makes me wonder what other parks I need to go visit. Maybe I should visit one every year, build my vacations around going to National Parks. This country is so big and has so much to see and amaze me with.

Photos from Day 2

We're on the road again!

Way back last year sometime, my friend Beth asked if I would be willing to go to Yellowstone with her. Would I?! And so, right after New Year's Day, we booked our room and promptly forgot about it. Fast forward to last month when we realized we still needed to buy our plane tickets! Bah! How did this sneak up on us? Tickets were booked, car was rented, and we started to get excited about our upcoming adventure. A week in Yellowstone, with a trip through the Tetons.

Today was a long one, starting at 5am to get picked up by dad and be transported to my brother's. From there, he would drive us to La Guardia. We got there in record time, the beauty of nabbing the first flight of the morning. The TSA agents were still friendly it was so early! It was a packed flight for our first leg of the trip to Chicago. There was much debate over whether we should check our bags or risk having to gate check. Miracle of miracles, we chanced it and were both able to fit our bags on the plane. The second flight to Jackson was much nicer. Nearly empty plane, free earbuds, and they unlocked the premium tv stations so we could watch more than the one free show. Even Jackson airport was super nice. Clean, empty, friendly. We got our rental and hit the road!

There are two ways to get to West Yellowstone, MT from Jackson. One cuts through Idaho and the other through the Tetons and Yellowstone Park. Obviously we went for the scenic route. Although I have my suspicions that every route is scenic around these parts. Unfortunately, it was a cloudy day, and you couldn't see the tops of the mountains. I really had hoped to get some nice pictures of the Tetons, but I had to make do with what I had. Hopefully on the way back it will be a clear day and I can get some shots then.
Stupid clouds
By this point we were both getting pretty hungry, so when we saw a sign for restaurants we pulled off and followed them. Unfortunately, the restaurants are only open during the peak season. But the gift shop was open! I picked up a cool patch for my bag that I'll iron on tomorrow, some magnets, and a National Parks Passport, which I was immediately able to stamp with two stamps, one for the Tetons, one for the Rockefeller Parkway. Still have to get my Yellowstone one and then I'll have this area covered. We found a convenience store, picked up some snacks, and got back on the road.

Once we entered Yellowstone we were on immediate animal patrol. And within minutes we came across our first deer. Like most, he stood on the edge of the road and couldn't make up his mind which way he was going. So we creeped by until it was safe and moved on. Then I thought I spotted a moose, but we couldn't pull over to see for sure. Then the bison came. As big and dumb as ever. When we entered the park they gave us a flier warning us not to go near the bison lest they gore us. Naturally, people ignored these warnings and were out of their cars trying to get close shots. That's what a zoom is for people! We drove along and realized that the park was not what we were expecting. We both had envisioned large, open plains. Instead, you were driving on a path cut through the trees, so dense that you couldn't see into the forest. Unlike anything I've seen. It was still beautiful, but you just couldn't see anything. Thankfully there were plenty of pull-offs for you to get on and take your pictures. There were so many vistas that you'd never get anywhere if you actually stopped at all of them. We decided that as it was getting later and would be dark soon, we should skip Old Faithful and just go straight to the hotel. We spotted some elk, another moose, and more deer before getting to the condo.

The condo is great! An actual table and chairs, a full kitchen, living room, two bedrooms, and large bathroom, plus a balcony. There's even a fireplace, which we turned on. It's chilly out there! As soon as the sun disappeared, it got cold in a hurry. We found a place to eat and now are back in the room. Beth went to bed a while ago, I had to edit my pictures and post this. I'll do my best to update everything daily. It's 10:30 here, 12:30 back home. I'm beat. I think it's time to call it a night and see where the road takes us tomorrow!