We’d long planned a Long Yellowstone (multiple puns intended, as in the Long family) trip, but as time ebbed on, some Longs had young kids ill suited (yet) for dangerous national parks (some of the acid in those Yellowstone pools will boil and burn your flesh) and other folks (me) became concerned about travelling safely in a world where everyone else is just fine getting heart, breathing, or brain problems potentially for the rest of their life just for the joy of eating indoors or sharing airborne germs at an airport (am I the only person that always came back from a trip with a cold before covid? really?).
Side note: before this trip I had a whole COVID manifesto blog post prepared. I won’t post anything more about it in this post, but I may still post my detailed ramblings as a separate blog. It’s becoming even more relevant as in the last week three different close associates, who hadn’t had any known infection previously, have had a time with the latest variant and some institutions (universities and studios) have reinstated mandatory masking and proof of vaccination. On this trip there was a noticeable difference in the amount of masking folks leaving LA vs. entering, but still a small minority of total travelers and it’s unclear if that’s just because LA folks are slightly more COVID conscious or if the community level of concern is shifting.
Okay, so one more paragraph about it. Only to let you know that, no, we were not total hypocrites by taking this trip (our first flight since a brief –also masked– trip to Ohio in 2021). I wore an N95 on my face from the moment the Uber drove up to after we were able to fully air out the rental car in Jackson. And it stayed in my pocket (not the same one every time, we brought a pack) and popped back on any time we were indoors, including trail bathrooms, etc. There were a few times (like Prismatic Overlook and Artist Point) where I probably should have put it on outside too because there were gobs of people crammed into the same space shouting and crowding (like a Taylor Swift concert). Spotting another person masking out there made us feel like doing “the nod” that I’ve heard about. Sam turned to me one night at the hotel and said “Now you know how I feel as an Asian person when I visit certain parts of America.” As a person aware of the privileges afforded a white male this borders on hyperbole (at the height of covid “Wuhan Lab Leak” hysteria there were crazies killing and assaulting Asians, but our masks only got us a lot of weird looks from cashiers and front desk agents), but it was a palpable difference.
The perceived conservative nature of a large percentage of park goers was a surprise for me; it turns out there are two types of visitors to Yellowstone: #1 The French (or French speaking Swiss, etc.) and #2 The Red Hats (and I don’t mean the open source enterprise technology people). You see, the fishing in Yellowstone is legendary and a lot of the Americans in Yellowstone are locals there for that, rural (is there any other kind?) Wyomingites and Montanans with politics that begin at former Republican VP and Oil CEO Dick Cheney’s daughter being too woke. They (I am making an assumption the locals and the flair wearers were the same, I could be wrong) wore their politics on their sleeves, or more accurately, on their cars, t-shirts, and notorious single color headwear. Subtle dumb digs at minorities, flag kneelers, and more silently greeted us at the popular attractions, though thankfully nobody was ballsy enough to wear a shirt with Captain Bone Spurs straddling a tank or anything. Guess that shows a modicum of restraint. Four indictments will do that to a fanbase…I hope… Still, the “out and proud” public team sport approach to politics for conservatives is very different from just a decade ago, but a predictable consequence of committing (via instructions delivered at 8pm nightly) to following the incoherent musings of a man who made an entire career of being his own recognizable (for better or much much worse) brand with zero substance. The brand is the product and that’s an appealing prospect for anyone lacking critical thinking skills.
Apologies to any conservative snowflakes offended by the last couple paragraphs, that’s the last of it for now. I am reflecting after the fact about how unpleasant it was to have politics follow us into a national park that didn’t even have cell phone service. It’s also ironic. National Parks is a socialist concept, like many others, that conservatives will fall all over themselves to excuse from that category (like fossil fuel and farming handouts and corporate welfare) only because they happen to like and/or benefit from it. It’s an amazing brain twist to go fishing at Trout Creek in Yellowstone, which is funded by congress (read: taxes) with your “don’t
tread on tax me” shirt, but rail (via fact-checker redacted facebook memes) against congressionally funded “free healthcare” for people below the poverty line and experience zero cognitive dissonance about it. Guys out here with truck nuts giving themselves free trout and denying children insulin somehow justifying that decision with biblical values on the back end. We do have a values problem in America, but not the values they think, and it didn’t start with MAGA.
I realize this isn’t what you came here for and the commentary is very far out into critical political thinking extrapolated from simple and completely anecdotal (read: possibly incorrect) observations, but without access to mindless entertainment, thinking is what some of us fall back on in those quiet moments. What were two well-educated independent voters going to think or talk about on those long hikes, whether Lebron or Jordan is the GOAT? Please.
So going back in time now and starting over the post with a chronological and apolitical assessment of the adventure: back in May or June Sam and I (with mom and pop’s blessing as the family trip wasn’t likely to materialize this decade) booked plane tickets and decided to just pack our masks to do the Long Family Yellowstone Trip™ itinerary on our own. There aren’t that many roads in Yellowstone, it’s essentially a loop, a Grand Loop one might say, so the details are all in which quadrant of that northwest corner of Wyoming you hit on which day and where to sleep at night. Flights and driving seemed tricky, but we needlessly overcomplicated our thinking. We decided to fly into Jackson and drive north, flying out of Bozeman as that would give us more time in each spot because we wouldn’t have to backtrack.
(hint: turns out your whole Yellowstone adventure will be backtracking, going back and forth over the same roads to see this and that thing again, etc.)
It turned out it wouldn’t have been a huge deal to just drive back to Jackson from Mammoth. Despite all the warnings of how spread out the place is and how slow the roads are, as long as you budget some time it’s not that difficult to get around, and driving back down (or up) through the park on your last day isn’t an unpleasurable experience. The traffic backup from Bison crossing the road is never as bad as the 110 going through downtown on a Saturday. Although the 110 does have more wild animals acting out and putting you in danger.
On Saturday, August 5th, we took a short flight, roughly 0.5 A2 (I am going to start describing flight times by multiples of Avatar 2’s running time) from LAX to Jackson around noon local time. The old plane actually sprung a leak inside the cabin a few rows in front of us before we even took off, which does wonders for your confidence I can tell you. The stewardess called the pilot right in front of us and from what we could surmise his response was “meh, just move the people the plane is peeing on to a different seat and worry about it in Jackson.”
Once underway we found out that the perpetually broken-up-with Taylor Swift had just cried about it again in our town (you think I’m making fun of her, but that’s seriously a central theme of the songs and apparently the fan perception of the setlist) because a certain number of millennials on our flight spent their time fiddling with TikTok and Instagram posts about what they’d done on Thursday. After seeing this and googling later I’ve discovered that the reason Swift has made so much money on this tour is because women in this age group view the concerts more like an age and gender specific holiday. Sorority sister reunions. Mom’s clubs meetups. The high school cheer crew. They all had their own broken hearts between then and now and Taylor was always there singing straight to them. This is a beacon for them, calling them home, albeit to towns which they don’t live in. And hey, I get it, sort of. I had my own breakups to pout about long ago requiring depressing mix tapes with How to Disappear Completely, Broken Heart, November, and more! In the early aughts friends used to get in my car and say “okay, I’ll ride with you, but you can’t play that depressing music the whole time, dude!”
It’s an interesting social phenomenon to just watch aloof and uncaring from afar. I say that, but Taylor has already influenced a bit of economic decision making for me. My wife generously made a lifelong dream of mine come true last year by gifting me a “big boy” guitar. I was having a hard time choosing between a Martin and a Taylor. When the Taylor (guitars) website opened with a big red splash ad for a Taylor Swift branded cheapo model I knew which brand wasn’t for me. So I guess I should thank her for helping me decide (and ending hours of boredom at Guitar Center for my wife!). Culturally, though, I can’t think of anything like the Eras Tour similarly engaging for my own age and gender profile, which makes me slightly jealous. I wanna eat memberberries with my buds too! Coachella used to be that thing, but my cohort largely stopped going when the performer lists started reading like an SNL skit. What was once Radiohead and Daft Punk became “uncle waffles” and “totally enormous extinct dinosaurs.” No, I didn’t make those up, those were real acts at Coachella 2023. Okay, I’m cheating a little because those weren’t the headliners. But who did headline this year? BlackPink, a K-pop all-girl group. In 2004 Radiohead and The Cure headlined, not 98 Degrees and Backstreet Boys. What an incredible generational (and gender?) vibe change for the same event. Anyway, this old man yelling at the clouds is supposed to be yelling about Yellowstone, not modern music. However, for large parts of our trip we had no TV, no internet, and no cell service, so modern entertainment kind of slipped out of consciousness for a week, which was nice in parts. I get that boomers apparently crave this “disconnected” experience (radios, telephones, televisions were all invented in 1985, apparently?), but anyone younger doesn’t. The only benefit was no access to the audio visual advertising bombardment about 12 year old girl (that’s where all the free spending cash is now) centric pop culture that the rest of us must endure to be users of the modern internet of things. However, not being able to text my wife when I lost track of her in a big crowded place was annoying (and momentarily worrying) beyond belief. That said, nobody was getting lost since GPS still works.
It’s reprehensible that Xanterra (the corporation that basically owns Yellowstone) keeps cell towers out just (I assume) to cut costs. They encourage you to “tag your posts” with their hashtag in their in-hotel magazine. The hotels that don’t have any wifi, or even televisions. I wouldn’t even be reading the Xanterra in-hotel magazine if I had any of those other entertainment options! But my complaining is getting ahead of my chronology again, we haven’t even landed in Jackson Hole yet…
At the rental car station in the Jackson airport we got a free upgrade to a Toyota 4Runner. This would end up an advantage when pulling off the road in uneven terrain to take Bison photos later, but the half-baked radar cruise control (at least compared to our Chevy Bolt) was a frustrating trade-off on the longer drives. Before we could do those drives, back at Jackson Hole, we were hungry and went to the closest restaurant, which turned out to be a golf club. Unfortunately that meant that although the view was great (Tetons golf course backdrop), the food was old and overpriced. Including a 20% “service fee” for non-members. For browning celery sticks.
We took our time stopping at rainy vistas on the way to Colter Bay.
At the Teton National Park entrance the ranger said there was no fee since their computer was down. After checking in at our Colter Bay hotel we went down to Jackson Lake to see the last gasp of the muted storm sunset on the reflected peaks.
On Sunday we drove down to inspiration point only to find traffic for Jenny Lake backed up onto the interstate. We decided to skip it and head to Phelps Lake, not realizing it was southward enough to be outside the park. As we rolled up to the entrance we saw an arc of waiting cars, two lanes, going as far back down the road as we could see. We knew if we went outside the park to Phelps we would have to wait in that huge line to get back in and pay the entrance fee, so we did a u-turn and went to String Lake.
The String Lake parking lot was already full so we took the Jenny Lake scenic drive instead and discovered that at the lookout point halfway through there was parking. We started off from there walking north in the direction of jenny lake but decided to turn around after awhile because the path was mostly wooded without a clear view of the lake and it would take hours to get to the main lake “spot.” After getting back to the parking lot we walked a little in the other direction (south). I hobbled down the hill (did I mention I gave myself shin splints before the trip? Yes, two weeks before a hiking trip is a very smart time to start a daily urban running regimen!) to the lake’s edge as serious storm clouds started brewing.
After coming back up the little cliff we walked south a bit more before turning around (for the same reason we didn’t walk too far north). Just as I found a nice artsy photo spot and asked Sam to model hailstorms started pelting us.
Luckily we were close to the car, so we just sat in the car and ate snacks until the hail stopped. By then we figured a lot of folks may have left the string lake parking due to the hail, and we were right. Even though NPS had placed “parking full” signs everywhere there were plenty of spots available after the melting witches all left the area. This allowed us to walk right up to our trail and take bridge photos without too many interuptions.
We walked down the trail for a bit, but this seemed like a more “bear heavy” trail than others (maybe because it had more and scarier warnings than the others) and the human traffic had bottomed out because of the continuing rain. We decided to turn back pretty quickly as not to risk anything (we did not have bear spray).
Instead, we walked around the other more populated and flatter (easier) walking path on the northern edge of the lake.
We planned to make our way slowly back to Colter, ear dinner, and then catch an amazing sunset at the colter lake view we found yesterday. We stopped at the dam on the way and the sun was shining bright. I was excited for the sunset.
After chili and wings (so far Yellowstone is coming in last out of national parks for food) we walked out to the viewpoint only to find another storm rolling in and no break in the clouds to allow for any kind of a photographable sunset. The few spur-of-the moment pink shots yesterday would have to be it for Teton sunsets.
After checking out we went back down south to willow flats (we’d gone there on the drive up Saturday evening) and waited for the sun to illuminate all the peaks, but it never really cooperated.
We drove north to Yellowstone and stopped at the thumb trail pools. We were supposed to stop at Lewis falls but it was closed for construction.
Our next stop was Keppler Cascade Overlook. We went out and tried to take pictures in the gloom, and then back at the car the sun burst out for a moment so we ran back, took this shot, and trashed the earlier pics.
Next we went to the mecca of national parks: Old Faithful. Now here is where we were unusually under prepared. The complex is massive, parking like a shopping mall, a sea of humans. That said, it’s all oriented around one thing: that old geyser, so we had no trouble finding it. However, we hadn’t looked up what times it would be spouting off so as we sat on the platform we assumed it would be soon since all the bench seats were taken. Not so. After an hour in the suddenly hot sun and several false starts, old faithful took full advantage of her “plus or minus ten minutes” and finally erupted. Unfortunately we were sitting right in the windward direction so we couldn’t completely see the geyser itself after the first spurt.
We then went to Biscuit Basin en route to Mystic Falls.
From the falls we hightailed it back to the car, just barely escaping the rain, and returned to old faithful for take-out dinner in the car. Which, due to cheaper prices and plentiful condiments was a more satisfying dinner eating in the 4runner than eating at the outdoor restaurants in the Tetons. Also, unlike anywhere else (that we found) in the park, the Old Faithful Grill has gluten free buns made out of rice and potato bread. It was the third hamburger I’ve eaten since my EoE diagnosis in 2018 and it was glorious. Okay, not glorious, but much appreciated. There’s a tactile sensation of biting into a sandwich that, silly as it sounds, you didn’t realize you missed until you’re chomping down again. I caught myself eating the sandwich in spirals instead of through, like I did as a kid before folks told me I was weird for it. Maybe I should try putting my watch back on my “wrong” right hand again and see how that feels!
Tuesday we woke to the patter of heavy rain. This made black sand basin a sea of mist and fog (and people). Interesting (though difficult!) for photography perhaps but less fantastic to walk through as a tourist.
Up the road at grand prismatic spring the line of cars seeking entry backed up down both sides of the road so we decided to skip it and try to catch it on the way back to the hotel later.
Our next stop was also full, so on we drove until we got to the firehole falls one way drive, which was thankfully sparsely populated. So much so that we could sneak off into the forest and take a much needed open air bathroom break.
On the way out we were informed via signage we were not allowed to stop, but we drove real real slow to take snaps of a nesting osprey.
By the time we got to Gibbon Falls the rain had stopped for a moment.
This made our hike around the Norris geyser area much more enjoyable, although the temperature swings were hard to properly dress for; you’re either wet from sweat or rain or both.
We didn’t walk through the porcelain pots area because it was after 3 and we wanted to get back to prismatic.
However, at prismatic traffic snarled for miles in both directions, worse than this morning. Okay, then back to old faithful for that gluten free hamburger dinner again. Except they were out of gluten free buns. I do see the silver lining there, that they had enough purchases of them that they ran out – thus the availability of gluten free buns might spread at national parks (and the like) in the future to my great benefit. I accepted the great momentary sacrifice and ordered a bun-less Bison sausage.
Finally back at prismatic for the third try after dinner the traffic was only backed up ten cars deep. We waited patiently for our (left) turn and when we were only a few cars back from entering the parking lot a ranger stepped in front of us, put down a “lot full” sign and motioned for us to keep driving past prismatic.
We begrudgingly drove half a mile up the highway, parked at the end of a long line of cars on the rough and slant graded berm of the highway (grateful for the 4×4) and walked all the way back.
By the time we hiked all the way up to prismatic the sun had hid behind swirling cloud cover, dulling much of the “prismatic” effect. However, we could see that the clouds were drifting away from the sun, flirting with the potential for a dramatic prismatic sunset.
So we found a bench and sat for over an hour until the sun came out. As the day grew long and the crowds began thinning we decided to just sit around some more and wait for the sunset. Much of that time we listened to a nice old lady sharing the bench with us tell us her life story of car accidents, surgeries, grandkids, and then just before her family caught up to her she sprang the “I just don’t like them Black Lives Matter people, I mean All Lives Matter, right?!” This is how those anecdotal make-believe “this happened to me, really!” twitter posts of “those California folks AGREED WITH ME about black people” start. Just say your controversial opinion piece and then walk away, assuming we agreed since we didn’t slap you. She was from a working class household in New Jersey, and made clear earlier in the conversation she didn’t like Trump (although it seemed possible she could only admit this to complete strangers that would never tell her family). Maybe it was the meeting with Kanye that turned her off.
The walk all the way back to the car (and 45 minute drive back to the hotel) was murder though. And made me mad because we were the only car left...so maybe we (except for the handicapped, of course) deserved to be let into the parking lot earlier, Mr. Ranger, eh?
Did I mention I gave myself shin splints before this trip? I thought about that nice Ranger on the way back to the car a lot.
On Wednesday we slowly made our way up to Mammoth Springs. We heard that there were thousands of bison in Lamar valley and had that planned for the afternoon, but we encountered several on our morning drive on the west side of the park in Hayden Valley anyway.
Mammoth was a bit underwhelming. The sun was out and the ground was already boiling, literally, so it was kind of like hiking through a sauna.
However, these cauldrons were rarely colorful (despite the select photos I’m showing you) and the overflowing water cascading down the hill we had seen many pictures of had dried up considerably. I suppose this place has its seasons and water is not abundant in the heat of summer.
Back on the road we enjoyed the shade and relative peace and quiet (hardly any people) at Calcite Springs Overlook.
We were getting hungry and started gobbling up our snacks in the car on the way to Tower Falls only to find out that the parking area for the falls has a café and convenience store and everything. So we ate bison sausage despite having already eaten.
Then it was up over the high mountains and through Lamar Valley to get to our hotel. Last week a national parks person on the phone told me that there were thousands of bison in Lamar valley. She wasn’t lying. We saw many, and often they came right up to the car. At one point a fellow on a big nasty “look at me, I NEED ATTENTION!!!” Harley got caught up in the traffic and the Bison took offense to his rumblings, starting an audible “pissing match” (I believe it’s called) between the animal and the bike. When the bison started down the hill towards the bike the big tough guy took the hint and barreled outta there since the animal weighs about four times as much as the average attention starved chrome noise maker.
By the way, I’m not taking potshots at bikers, the sound really does irritate bison and they are known to attack bikes. Some parks even warn bikers coming in not to rev their engines around the animals.
Arriving back at the hotel earlier than we thought we checked out the nearest Yosemite Falls viewpoint.
We’d planned to go to Inspiration Point for the sunset, but ultimately decided against it due to the crowds, the time (sunset is at almost 9pm this time of year), and the fact that the sunset won’t actually illuminate the canyon since inspiration point looks westward. The best sunset opportunities (IMHO) involve the sunset reflecting off objects in the foreground (objects typically made of metallic surfaces or water). That and the cloud cover indicated the sunset would not be particularly brilliant that evening anyway. We decided to hit all the views of the falls in the morning when the sun would be coming right down the canyon.
This day was dedicated to Yosemite falls, all the hikes, all the angles and even with a stop for elk in between it took less than four hours since the falls happened to be right next to our hotel.
With our extra time we drove back through Hayden valley to shoot some bison and check out dragon’s breath.
We ate dinner back at the canyon area and then took a leisurely drive down through Hayden valley again to get up close and personal with more bison before sunset
Friday was catch-up day. We decided to start it by trying to hike up to that high overlook we saw folks staring down at us from the other day when we were on the prismatic boardwalk. Turns out it’s an easy hike, but very busy. While waiting to take pictures we ended up talking to a retired couple from Switzerland who offered to show us around if we ever go back there, which we already planned to do.
What everyone on the hike ignored was a spot right at the base of the uphill part of the overlook hike that allowed an eye level view of the prismatic spring. Unlike the other views, from this angle you could actually see the prism of colors rising up five to ten feet (depending on steam and wind) over the spring, even over the silhouettes of the people on the boardwalk. For me, this was the most physically (as in the physics of photons and spectrum of visible light) interesting part of Grand Prismatic Springs. It’s like Dark Side of the Moon, but in nature and six feet high. And not dark. Or on the moon, although the sandy cratered surface of the spring does resemble the lunar surface a little.
Since we were right there we decided to visit the prismatic springs boardwalk again. Unlike a few days ago when it was overcast and rainy, today it was sunny and clear so the color of the spring wafted up with it’s own steam. This was the colorful experience we’d been promised in the brochures (and Gen Z would say TikTok videos, I suppose).
Next on our list was a trip to revisit old faithful since the first time we sat to the right, which it turned out is the direction the wind blows, so all you see from that side is steam! We had time first to eat at the Grill for the third (and we knew final) time this trip. I mentioned the gluten-free buns earlier, but the bell pepper soup there is actually pretty good too, so we ate like true Americans: two double cheeseburgers, dipped in (what looks like tomato) soup, washed down with root beer, and followed up a bit later by ice cream (okay, technically we got the Froyo). Ordinarily we’d never assault our body with so many calories, but walking six miles a day burns a lot of it off.
Mission accomplished we drove north towards our hotel, stopping at artists paint pots first.
On our sorta kinda last day in Wyoming we chose to drive out of the east entrance and see what the Beartooth Highway is all about. To get there, you have to drive through Lamar Valley first and so, obviously, we saw more Bison.
Beartooth is very similar to the Mount Evans Scenic Byway in Colorado, which we drove on ten years ago.
However, I’d have to say Evans is superior, not only for being 4,000 feet higher at its peak, but for more views, hikes, and overall easier ingress and egress. The south side of Beartooth has many dramatic views from the switchbacks and then the north side is just a long slow series of twists down a gentler slope spitting you out in Montana. Unfortunately that put us far east of Yellowstone, and our lodging at the north entrance in Gardiner. We knew ahead of time that driving all the way back around (not through) the range would take a while (even in a place where the speed limit is 80mph) but by the end of the third hour I was “over it” as the kids say.
After checking into our Gardiner hotel we found a roadside (outdoor seating) BBQ to get a “real meal” in us before one last run at the park. To be honest the BBQ wasn’t half as good as Ants in Glassell Park or Ribs USA in Burbank, but it beat another meal of potato chips and string cheese in the 4Runner.
We returned to mammoth and walked about a mile into the forest on the beaver pools connecting path before turning around. I must have taken 2,000 pictures trying to get a decent shot of these yellow birds in the trees.
Our goal at Mammoth Springs the second time was to take sunset photos at the overlook. Unfortunately the clouds didn’t quite cooperate.
The sunset offered some far off purple, but not the reflections on the geyser pools we hoped for and after positioning ourselves at the lower end I had to run (not fun with shin splints) all the way to the upper lot to try and snap the pink ribboned clouds that would only exist in the other direction for a few moments…
As we drove back down through the little mammoth village we noticed dozens of elk just casually walking through, even right in front of the hotel check in.
Since our flight in Bozeman wasn’t until the early afternoon we slept in, relaxed, and then visited the Roosevelt Arch at the north entrance.
The plane home offered a better window to the world (literally) than the one on the way in so I took advantage. The hard problem, which I still haven’t solved, is turning those high altitude all-blue spectrum shots into something more recognizable to full color human eyeballs. The following shots are the most heavily post-processed of the entire trip and they still look not quite right!
We were known for a while as a couple that travels a lot and travels far. COVID put a complete stop to that and other than a quick Ohio family visit in 2021 and a Thai family Lake Tahoe trip in 2022, this was our first “real vacation” since August of 2019 (Thailand). Although technically the Thailand trip was for our (now defunct) business, so really our last vacation was in Belize in April of 2019. Four years and four months is a long break for folks that used to go to three to five different countries a year.
However, Yellowstone was oddly appropriate for us to dip our toes back into traveling because in that travel pause we aged. For us, that means shorter hikes and shorter days. Although we got some ribbing from the Swiss couple in their 60s that proudly told us that 5 mile hikes were still nothing for them. Speaking of old folks, what we discovered is that Yellowstone is really the “old folk’s national park.” The most popular things to see are all easily accessible from a parking lot, and the only way to get around is to drive. I’m so glad I hiked up to Angel’s Landing and Yosemite Upper Falls in my thirties and saved Yellowstone Falls for my forties. Then again, my mother matched me step for step at the top of Angel’s Landing, a 5.4 mile hike, when she was 57, so perhaps I am making too many excuses at only 42.
It was easy to make excuses at Yellowstone, a place known for wide open vistas rather than rocky switchbacks. Yellowstone has a lot of natural beauty, but if we had to choose I think we’d prefer taller mountains and skinnier valleys. Yellowstone has more of a rustic “farmland cowboy” feel than the dramatic snow-capped alpine peaks we usually visit. The topography reflects the very different landscape sculpting method (a gigantic half-continent altering volcanic eruption) used in Wyoming, but I would still put in on the bucket list best to be visited before Lauterbrunnen if you want to be continuously wowed in your travels.
Of course, this says nothing of the altogether wetter and craggier experience of the Tetons. A place hewn closer to my piney alpine Sierra ideal with forest paths replete with verdant vibrance (perhaps it was the rain) that pulled at my Ohio-boy heartstrings more than the orange sun-drenched hay fields in Yellowstone’s expansive valleys. After twenty years in Southern California I get asked occasionally what I might miss about Ohio. The answer is always the thunderstorms with their power and petrichor. A hail shower under tall pines brought a little of that sense of home back in the Tetons. Rain or shine I didn’t feel any similar sense of old comforts in Yellowstone, save for maybe in passing the minute waterfalls zigzagging down with us through the pines to the Brink of Lower Falls.
Despite all that equivocating about which wet and or wooded part of the park gave me the feels, there’s nothing else in the world like Grand Prismatic Springs. It makes Hell Valley in Noboribetsu look like a kid’s diorama of a volcanic landscape. (in fairness Noboribetsu [arranged by my sister-in-law] served us with one of the most delicious and memorable meals of our lives, which Wyoming certainly did not)
Perhaps it’s best to appreciate each place and person for the unique value they bring to the world, and not place things in a top ten (as social media so loves and clearly has trained my writing mind to consider). Taking our other experiences out of the equation would not be necessary to think back on Yellowstone with fond memories. Seeing bison up close and personal repeatedly is certainly something that can’t be replicated anywhere else on Earth.
I would like to go back in the winter and see some of the sights when the bitter cold has left them much less accessible to tourists and more “pristine.” The hot springs boiling in brilliant vivid colors out of a landscape of pure white must be unforgettable. However, after enduring Iceland and Banff in the winter I’m not sure Sam has another -20 degrees your-breath-freezes-to-your-face and your fingers go numb inside your gloves vacation left in her. And with a four year backlog we’ve got a lot of first time destinations to check off the list before we get to any sequels.
However, just getting away from work and regular home life (not that either of those are “bad”) was a nice change of pace. We quickly figured out that we had more than enough time to see all the things we wanted in the park, despite the enormity of its 2.2 million acres. This was a tad different from our normal vacations in which I time everything down to the minute to squeeze out every interesting opportunity and sense an acute FOMO if we’re rained out. At Yellowstone we ended up going back and forth to the same sights over and over again at different times of day and different states of weather, more like a local may experience the place than an anxious tourist.
And as for the locals I bagged on earlier, I don’t really know if they were wearing the GQP gear or if those were tourists from Alabama or Florida. The high portion of French folks was obvious since we heard them speaking French and joked about how we should start practicing for our next trip (Paris this winter) now!
Most important of all I was glad that Sam was physically able to make the trip, still in the lifelong recovery period after that break and fall and surgery last summer. Oh, and our first wedding anniversary occurred on the trip, so this was an anniversarymoon of sorts, which I just learned is a thing with young people now. So we’re still hip after all.