Burning Gas to See the Sights-Yellowstone

In my last travel post, I wrote about our time in Jackson Hole and Grand Teton National Park, This story is about our time in Yellowstone National Park.

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Yellowstone National Park is a magnificent place. It sits in the Northwest corner of Wyoming, a state that is mostly flat. Driving through Eastern Wyoming is dull. Except for the occasional pronghorn antelope, one sees only empty rolling flatlands encircled by barbed wire. Eventually the Wind River Mountains appear on the horizon, and the geography changes.

We drove north out of Jackson Hole and passed the snowless Grand Tetons for the last time.   Yellowstone Park is next to the Grand Tetons and is a short hundred mile drive.

Our original plan was to stay in Old Faithful Inn and to spend a few days looking at all the weird and wonderful geophysical thermal anomalies that comprise Yellowstone. The plan evolved into a one day drive through with lunch at Old Faithful Inn. As I explained in an earlier post, getting a room at Old Faithful on very short notice is the same as winning the Mega-Lottery.

We chose to tour Old Faithful Inn because it is a magnificent structure made entirely of logs harvested from the park. It is one hundred and seven years old, and a National treasure. It is also the centerpiece of Yellowstone Park.

Old Faithful Geyser is a few steps away from the front door of the Inn. When the Inn was constructed, most people traveled to the park to see the geyser. They still do. In the old days, they came by train and continued by way of a yellow bus to the inn.

The main lobby of the Inn is several stories high. There are two giant fireplaces to take a chill out of a weary traveler’s bones. All the stone is from the park. The main architecture of the building was pre-planned as most buildings are. The details of the interior could only have been done by an artist using material gathered from the Park on site as the structure went up. Only Walt Disney could have envisioned the railings, and the gussets that make up the guard rails and sconces in the lobby.

We timed our lunch around the geyser. Ever since discovery of the park by John Colter a member of the Lewis and Clark Expedition, the geysers has been spouting off on a cycle of about one hour. Of course it was spouting off longer than that, but it wasn’t until 1806 that Colter recorded the discovery.

Peggy and I watched two cycles of the geyser and toured the shops in between. The sun was getting low and we had to move on. I deliberately took a longer drive out of the park to give us a view of the many geysers, and boiling mud fields, and paint pots as we could see. We got lucky and sighted a small herd of buffalo and some elk too. I also got to hear an elk bay for a mate; the scariest noise I’d ever heard.

Our Yellowstone journey ended as we passed through the West Entrance. It was amazing to see how quickly the forest was regenerating itself from the fire a few years earlier.

Here are some of the pictures from this segment of the trip.

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Burning Gas to See the Sights-Grand Teton

Every once in a while Grandma Peggy and I get the itch to see some stuff. A couple of years ago we took a trip out west. The destination was Banff National Park in Alberta, Canada. The plan was to visit the US National Parks that Peggy has not been to, and then to cross the border to see the things I have missed.

We left on Friday morning and  headed toward Grand Teton National Park by crossing Illinois, and Iowa into Nebraska. We wanted to spend our first overnight in Lincoln, but there were no accommodations to be had. Nebraskans take football seriously and the team was playing their homecoming game.

The last time I visited Grand Teton, I was on a bicycle with my friends. Five of us drove to Yellowstone and then unpacked our bikes to spend a week sightseeing  by bicyle,, and finally ending at Jackson Hole. Another time we camped at Jackson Lake campground as a family. The five of us took a boat across Jenny Lake to hike in the mountains hoping to spot some wildlife. My son Michael was only six at the time and newly diabetic. We hiked as a family for as far as we could when Barb stopped and told me to go ahead with the older kids. She would stop and rest with Mike to make sure he didn’t use up all his energy. It was a wise move. She and Mike sat along the path and waited for us to return.  A half hour later we returned to find two of the most excited people on the face of the mountain. While we continued our search for wildlife, a male moose with a rack the size of our car walked down the mountain and stopped to graze within a few feet of Barb, and Mike. They froze until the big guy ambled off down the mountain. We came back within five minutes of the event. We had not even seen a ground squirrel on our venture up the hill. We had a nice hike back to the boat landing and crossed the lake. It was still a short hike back to our campsite when Mike’s insulin kicked in and used up the sugar he had left in his blood. Barbara instantly turned into paramedic. She ran, carrying her son, to the nearest camper to ask for sugar. Luckily, she found some and stuffed it into his mouth to keep him from passing out.

Luckily, this trip was less eventful than our family camping adventure, but the sights were totally different from the last time. Grand Teton mountain was bare. Every photo on every calendar of the Grand Teton is one with a snow cap. The mountain is not as spectacular without snow. Another difference is that we experienced a grey cloud cover with rain. I have been to this park four times and always saw super blue skies with billowy white clouds; rain came in the late afternoon and lasted for only an hour.

Nevertheless, Peggy and I toured as much of the Park as we had the energy for. I wanted to stay at Jackson Lake Lodge, but that is not a place you can book on a short notice. It is such a popular place, tourists book a full year ahead. Getting a room two weeks before you arrive is like winning the lottery. After striking out, we chose the Painted Buffalo Motel, a two star accommodation in downtown Jackson hole. That is another difference from before when I slept in a tent, and in a cheap motel with a bunch of guys.  The Painted Buffalo is older and worn, but super clean. Most importantly, it is affordable and only two short blocks from all the touristy shops, bars, and restaurants in Jackson Hole. Parking in the town is a premium, and we walked everywhere we could to avoid moving the Avalon. (I still called it the Avalon back then because it hadn’t been recalled for runaway acceleration at that time.)

Jackson Hole brags about having thirty frost-free days each year. We experienced a light frost which disappeared rapidly when the sun appeared. It was September, and we wanted to see quaking aspens reflecting into Jenny lake against a snow-capped Grand Teton. We didn’t see the picture i visioned.

Here is some of what we did see:

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GPS Gypsy

Ever since my first real job, I began to travel. As a kid, mom and dad took me from Chicago to Covert, Michigan to visit my grandfather. In college, I travelled to Rensselaer, Indiana, and then to Urbana, Illinois. The college travel was not hard to plan, buy a train ticket, get to the station in time, then board. My venture into planning trips began just before I married Barb. We went to Florida.  I bought a road atlas and layed out the route. We decided on each overnight stay near the end of the driving day. Usually, we found nice and clean places to stay. That trip taught me to make an itinerary, with driving mileages and destination towns. My driving routes were always major highways like U.S. 41, U.S. 66, or U.S. 30. Motels were always on the side of the road as we enetered a town.
Soon our kids came, and we began a new form of travel. Most of the planning involved keeping the kids happy. I planned the routes, and accommodations.  Barb did the rest.
In the last forty seven years, alot of miles have rolled by, and I still plan the trips. Except for the times that we visited Europe and the far east, we drove. After Barb died, I traveled alone.
A couple of years ago, my son showed me his latest toy. It was on the night before my new wife Peggy and I were to leave for Arizona. He demonstrated a Garmin Street Pilot G.P.S. Oh the wonders of this new tool! The technology is great.  How in the world the little lady inside the box knows all the routes and street names is beside me. I don’t really care, she does a great job, and I have come to trust her a great deal. I went out and bought a Street Pilot the very next day before we left.
Global Positioning Satalites are placed into orbit above the earth at a distance that maintains their relative position stationary. Unknown to most of us, the government has been spotting these satellites around the world for many years. A typical GPS unit will receive signals from as many as six satellites at one time. I don’t need to tell you anymore about the science of how they work. I do want to tell you that they do work well.
At this very moment I am on a trip, and I left the route planning to the GPS. I did decide ahead of time what my destination cities would be, but that’s where my planning ended. I pre-programmed the unit with the towns I would stop in. The machine did the rest. I just followed Lisa’s instructions after that. Lisa is the name of the girl inside the box. If I use her advice she is quiet. If I make an error and miss a turn, she gives me attitude and tells me that she is “recalculating.”
So far we have driven from our home in Frankfort, to Jackson Hole, Yellowstone, Calgary, Banff, Lake Louise, Van Couver, Victoria, Olympia, and now Portland. She has not missed a single city, or hotel.
In fact, while driving to our hotel in Van Couver, she took a route through the middle of town because I had programmed her for the “shortest distance.” Well we were on side streets through some really interesting neighborhoods. Eventually, we left town and were into the outskirts judging by the amount of farms we saw. I kept thinking that she finally lost her way. We were driving farther away from the city through corn fields. Suddenly, a large building appeared ahead of us. It was our hotel. She announced “arriving at Holiday Inn Express on the left,” in her finest computerese dialect.
Today, I spent about five minutes looking at an Inter-State highway map of the U.S. Just to get familiar with the states and the general route we will follow next. Tomorrow, I will program her with all the hotels we have reserved.
There have been other times, when Peggy and I have taken trips without hotel reservations. When we reach a point about thirty miles from a town we want to stop in, I ask Lisa for hotel info. She provides a list of hotels within the radius. I select a place, and hit go. She takes me to the front door. She even has the address and phone number for the hotel. I use my cell phone to call, and make a reservation from thrity miles out.
Need fuel, ask Lisa. Hit the button marked “fuel.” She will display every gas station within close range, display the name, miles to get there, and points an arrow in the direction.
I never worry about getting lost because all I have to do is hit “home,” and she will lead me to my front door.
In the three short years Peggy and I have travelled we have used Lisa to takes us to Arizona, California, Quebeck, and all the cities of this current trip. We also use her to take us into the city for plays and concerts. She is great for finding parking garages in downtown Chicago.
Between Map Quest and the GPS, my trip planning time has been reduced tremendously. I use the time to research what I will see and do when I get to my destination. If I’m not sure what there is to see at a destination, I ask Lisa for “attractions.”

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