Friday, October 14, 2011


Day 4 - we spent the day driving through Wyoming. Our first stop was Devils Tower, the nation's first National Monument. Neither Greg nor I had ever been there, but Greg remembered it from Close Encounters of the Third Kind. (A movie I've never seen. Greg says I should see it. Any other opinions out there?) It was a very impressive place, and great to get the kids out for a walk in an amazingly peaceful wilderness.

In all of the sites we've gone to so far, there are very few visitors. Mid-week in October, apparently, is off-season for South Dakota and Wyoming, and the parks and monuments are blissfully quiet. Although the weather isn't fabulous, it really is allowing us to see these places without crowds and rush.

At Devils Tower we saw rock-climbers. And listened to a woodpecker. And saw prairie dogs.

After that, with Baz and Isa complaining of serious holes in their sneakers, shoe-shopping could wait no longer. We found a shoe store in Sheridan, WY, and gratefully fitted them out with two new sturdy pairs of Columbias. With amusement I noticed that Greg handled most of the fitting and transactions - a pleasant change, I can't remember the last time he shopped for shoes for the kids!! Nice for me to be able to step back. And then on the way out we went through the conversation that I think every set of parents goes through, multiple times - "damn that was expensive. how can they outgrow their shoes so fast?" "didn't we just buy them shoes six months ago?" etc. :)

From there, we had the treat of driving through Granite Pass, some big and beautiful mountains with winding roads up and down. Incredible views, and snow!!

Back down to earth, we have just arrived in Cody, Wyoming. At this motel, we splurged on a "Family Room", which includes two double beds and two twin beds. Baz gets to sleep in a bed, for the first time this trip!! Every other night, the girls have shared a bed, and he's been on the floor in a sleeping bag. The funny part is, the girls have been fighting with him over it, complaining that they, too, want a chance to sleep on the floor.

Day 5 - Yellowstone National Park

This morning we drove into Yellowstone. The kids were psyched to see wild animals; the ranger at the gate gave them a checklist, to keep track of how many they saw. Greg and I were mostly in awe of the scenery - the beautiful snow-capped mountains, plunging canyons, lakes and waterfalls and streams and forests; every corner you go around is like another picture postcard.

We were surprised at a couple of things. First, an amazing amount of the forests are burned trees, and the new growth of baby pines. Apparently there were some major fires here in the last few decades, we need to learn more about this.

Second, I didn't realize quite how cold, and how off-season Yellowstone would be in October. It turns out that tons of the park services , lodges and campgrounds shut down for the season in September; the lodge we are staying at, Old Faithful Snow Lodge, has one of only two dining rooms open in the park in October - and it closes for the season tomorrow. Most of the roads in Yellowstone are entirely shut down to cars from November 1 - April 15. That's nearly 6 months! I would never have believed it, without being here to see for myself. How can the most popular and well-known national park in the US be so difficult to visit for half the year? is based, I assume, on Yellowstone's clear and ever-present mission to be responsible environmental stewards. They could blast the snow out of this place and put heated rest stops throughout the park, but instead they let nature set the course.

Being here in the off-season, of course, has its perks. There is a quiet emptiness to the park, very peaceful. However, the cold and wind and drizzle has been daunting, and it has kept us from hiking quite as much as we'd like to.

Nevertheless, our first day in the park was filled with many great things. We checked out the giant Lake, and the Yellowstone River waterfalls, and the breathtaking Grand Canyon of Yellowstone. Then we discovered the hot springs, and hiked numerous trails around the geysers in central Yellowstone. Towards the end of the afternoon, we were finally rewarded with buffalo sighting! It went like this...

"Stop the car!! Buffalo!!"

"Oh, look, another buffalo! Who wants to get out of the car and get a little closer?"

"Oh My God Buffalo."

After seeing just a single buffalo here and there, we turned off the main road and found ourselves in an incredible herd. We counted 120 of them. There were babies too! We were all completely enthralled. They were so close to the car, we couldn't get out, but just rolled down the windows and gaped at them. They were amazing.

With that, and the fading light, we made our way to the Old Faithful Snow Lodge, for a night of rest before beginning our second day of exploration.

Day 6 - Yellowstone / Grand Teton / get the hell out of the cold, rainy mountains

The Snow Lodge is a beautiful place to stay. At $235/night, it was by far the priciest place on our itinerary, but the ambience of the place lived up to it. Decorative soaps, lamps, and woodwork; a lobby with cozy furniture and a roaring fire; convivial lounges and dining rooms; board games and puzzles to lend out at the front desk. But the weather was getting worse - temperatures, which had kindly climbed into the 50s on our first day, were forecasted for the 40s the following day, with rain. Paying such a steep price to stay somewhere for a second night, when we might very well just be cooped up in the lodge, seemed ridiculous - we decided to cancel the second night's reservation, and head south.

Before we did that, though, we did get to see Old Faithful erupt, and explore the geysers a bit more. They are really quite astounding. Here are some hot springs that are on Lake Yellowstone. Which boggles my mind ... Lake Yellowstone is known for being dangerously cold, with water temperatures in the 40s. Swimming is prohibited, due to the danger of hypothermia. And yet, all around the Lake, even immediately adjacent to it, these hot springs are bubbling over and trickling boiling-hot water into the lake. Ground temperatures in many of the surrounding areas are so high that plants can't survive, and people aren't allowed to walk. How is it possible that the lake can be so ungodly freezing?!

We also encountered even more buffalo, in a large herd that was making itself comfortable in the geyser basin around Old Faithful. These were astonishingly bold buffalo, who were all over the paths and impossible to avoid. It was fairly nerve-wracking, as you can see from the video in my next post.

Before leaving Yellowstone we got to cross over the continental divide. To our delight, the small body of water at the mountaintop is called Isa Lake!! Half of Isa Lake drains towards the Pacific, and half towards the Atlantic.

Greg, with his usual ridiculousness, decided to juggle 5 snowballs at the Continental Divide.

We made our way down to Grand Teton. Everyone raved about how beautiful Grand Teton was. But it was raining. So, we could see some beautiful landscapes from the windows, but no place seemed like we really needed to get out and explore it on foot in the drizzle. By that time we had decided to cut our losses with the mountainous regions of Wyoming. The chill and wet were too much for us ... the forecast is 70 degrees and sunny for the Grand Canyon. So we plowed ahead, southbound, through the cuteness of Jackson Hole, and into the hours of fairly empty, though pretty, driving between there and Utah.


  1. Sounds like you all are having a lot of fun!

    Janell and I went to Yellowstone one year when we went skiing in Big Sky, Montana. Because, as you say, the roads are closed to cars about 6 months of the year, we had to go in what had been a normal van that was outfitted with large skis on front and large snowmobile-type tracks in back. It could only go about 15-20 mph but it worked pretty well. Anyway, I just wanted to say that even though cars can't go on the roads for half the year, there are other options.

  2. We were in Yellowstone from the Montana side in November and got to dip into the hot springs and watch buffalo at the same time. I recommend it. Yes, see Close Encounters. It has some really fun parts as well as some old-fashioned don't hold up parts.