Tuesday, July 05, 2011

Yellowstone Road Trip

First, a few statistics:
-We rented a Dodge Grand Caravan (minivan) for this trip. We were riding in comfort!
- Number of miles at pickup: 3 (brandspankin’ new)
-Number of miles at drop-off: 2,460
-Substances that the poor rental car carwash guy was going to have to clean off the car: bison poo, 1000+ splattered bugs, tar (my fault)
-Number of times we folded all the seats into the floor and slept in the back: 2

Secondly, the one road trip rule:
No eating at any restaurant that can be found in your home city. 

Here was our route and our stops along the way:

We headed south from Seattle and camped the first night in Bend, Oregon. We visited the High Desert Museum (also in Bend). I first went to the HDM with my parents 15+ years ago and I thought it was absolutely delightful. I liked it just as much the second time around and would definitely recommend it to folks visiting Bend.

Then it was on to the John Day Fossil Beds in NE Oregon. My mom recommended that we visit both the Painted Hills Unit and the museum (at the Sheep Creek Unit). They were fabulous. We didn’t make it to the Blue Basin unfortunately, another of her recommendations. 

 Do this early in the day though: it was hot!
I haven’t spent a lot of time in far Eastern Oregon. It was incredibly beautiful. Bend (in Central OR) is hot and dry and the landscape is kind of scrubby. On the way out to John Day we passed through some spectacular scenery, including giant ponderosa pine forests that were stunning. The Ochoco National Forest was particularly interesting, landscape-wise. 
 Green pastures, green mountains. 
 We spent the night at a hotel in Boise, Idaho and then continued east along the Snake River to the Craters of the Moon National Monument. It is well named. The area was formally the land above the hotspot that currently resides under Yellowstone National Park. A caldera was formed several million years ago and acres of basalt covered the ground. It’s a stark landscape. 

We were fortunate enough to visit the area during the wildflower bloom, thanks to the very late spring that the West is experiencing. There is something about the desert wildflowers: they are small yet pack a big punch, visually. 

The highlight of this stop was walking through an old lava tube. The bambino can now check ‘caving’ off his life list. 

Just kidding. He doesn’t have one (yet). 

 The lava tube was nice and dark and cool. So much better than the hot desert air above.

 Still working on getting the baby to smile for the camera.

After our spelunking adventure, we set up camp just outside of Jackson, Wyoming. The campground was deserted and it soon became clear why that was: mosquito heaven. 

 Somehow Benjamin managed to escape without a single bite.

Perhaps because he looked so goofy that they couldn’t believe that he was real? And edible? Lucky boy.
Then it was into Jackson for breakfast and a stroll around town. 

Those antlers were picked up off the ground from the nearby Elk Preserve, by the way, and not directly from the animals themselves. 

The sign ones must be moose, yes?
 After Jackson we headed north into Grand Teton National Park. Unfortunately the kiddo was sleeping and we didn’t get out of the car except for lunch by the lake. A shame, really, as I’ve heard wonderful things about Yellowstone’s rarely-mentioned smaller sibling. 
Yellowstone! At last!
We spent two and a half days in the park and here are the areas that we visited:
The park did not disappoint, despite the hordes of people. 
 Vacationing with a baby was, not surprisingly, a new experience for us. We found that we were better suited to short walks, interspersed with naps and play sessions rather than the longer jaunts that usually fill our more adventurous vacations. Benjamin is still too small for the hiking pack and is a little too heavy for the font pack on long hikes. Plus, we were worried about sun exposure and wanted to make sure that he got enough laying around/tummy time in between long stretches in his car seat. 

So shorter walks were on the agenda for us. 

Yellowstone is well suited to this style of viewing, fortunately. Most of the must-see features are within a quarter mile of the road. Our very first stop was the West Thumb Geyser Basin. 
 And a few days later: a visit to Midway Geyser. 
 At the Paint Pots.

That is not a muumuu I’m wearing, just the blanket hanging down that I’m using to cover the baby from the sun. 
 Turn that frown upside-down! [Take me home! I don’t like Yellowstone anymore!] 
 Some jaunts were better than others. 

 Talk about AMAZING colors. This is the Grand Prismatic Spring. The aerial view is even more stunning. Seriously, take a look at this photo
 We especially liked how the steam was colored too. 
 This was from West Thumb Geyser. 
And I supposed a trip to Yellowstone wouldn’t be complete without a visit to Old Faithful. Which I thought was pretty darn cool. Lots of people give Old Faithful a bad rap but this girl was impressed. 

We liked West Thumb a lot. 
 And you know that I would provide animal pictures. Can't get enough of the [big] beasties. 

 We saw black bears..

And grizzly bears. I was thrilled about the bears. It reminded me of the guy on our Africa safari that wasn’t interested in anything else besides lions. He wasn’t happy until the guide had found him lots of big cats. And then he spent his time talking to them: Hey kitty, kitty. You are a big pussy, aren’t you? 

For the first two nights of the Yellowstone portion of the trip, I’d reserved a little log cabin outside of the park in Cooke City that was accessed via the NE entrance. It wasn’t until we’d driven through the park and up the turnoff that we found out that the river had washed out the road. The detour was an eight hour round trip. Major bummer. We scrambled to find lodging that night and ended up in a perfectly respectable hotel in Livingstone, Montana. Ben had his first swimming pool experience there. The second night we lucked out and got a room within the park, at Mammoth Hot Springs. 

The kiddo was a fan of the lodge. 

It was a great room, except that it was built long ago, for very small people:

 But it was a lovely lodge and we had a nice relaxing evening. 
The highlight of our time in Yellowstone were the bison herds. 
 Holy Moly peeps, these animals are HUGE.  They also are responsible for more people injuries than any other animal in the park. 

 It’s spring time so the herds are losing their winter coats. Warm weather comes later when you’re up  at 8,000 feet. 

 And it was baby season!

One morning we got an early start and were heading down the road to Old Faithful when we came upon a giant  traffic jam. What the heck? There must be something in the road, we thought. As we waited for whatever it was to clear out, this guy made an appearance next to our car:
He did some crazy digging and rolling around in the dirt:
 And then starting trucking down the road. He was MOVING.

 And not shy, either. 

 He was darting between cars and he kept pace with us for at least a mile. At one point he was running along directly beside the minivan, which was neat and scary at the same time, considering that he was as tall as the car. At one point two motorcyclists pulled over in front of us for a pee break, not having seen the bison trotting down the road. Chris hollered at them and they zipped back to their bikes and took off. I’ve never seen tough Harley guys look so scared. :)
Personally, I was happy seeing this guy from the car. Being on foot in close proximity wouldn’t have been very appealing. The fishermen had more guts than I did. 
After Yellowstone we stayed a night in Montana at the Chico Hot Springs and Resort (Thank you Eric, for the recommendation). Benjamin had his second pool experience. Which wasn’t a huge hit, but not a disaster, either. 
 And that, my dears, is the short(ish) version of our trip. We woke up early Friday morning and headed for home. Nice to go on vacations, nice to come home, too. 




  1. Looks like a wonderful trip! Fantastic pictures. I love Chico Hot Springs! And yes, the antlers with the "Jackson Wyoming" carving are from moose. Their antlers can also be called paddles.

  2. Love the pics Sonj! :) Wow - Yosemite is gorgeous! Glad to hear that you both had a good time despite the 8-hour detour. :)

  3. Such wonderful pictures! Makes me miss Yellowstone - you know that I lived there for 9 months right? Lived and worked at the Old Faithful Inn. I remember having to walk to work from the dorms - you were constantly skirting herds of bison or elk. Ben looks like he really enjoyed himself!

  4. We live in the Seattle area too and are considering the same trip! How many days were you gone? We are trying to figure out how much vacation time to take. Great pix!

  5. We were gone eight days although you could definitely make that shorter or longer, depending on your available vacation days and the amount of driving you're comfortable doing. We had a six month old child so we were taking lots of breaks. Also, it was nice to have three full days in Yellowstone as there is so much to see. If you're going during the height of the tourist season (summer), I'd recommend getting up really early to hit the hotspots as you'll avoid the crowds and traffic jams. Save the long hikes for the afternoons as 99% of the people don't venture 100 feet from the road. Bring bear spray though if you plan on long hikes. Have a great time!

  6. Anonymous8:15 AM

    We're also from Seattle and heading to Yellowstone with kids. What time of year were you travelling? I'm getting nervous about that river washed out road cos we booked to stay just outside the NE entrance too (planned this late, so not much park accom left) as we are concentrating on Lamar Valley. And, do you think it was worth going via Oregon, we thought we might go on the I-90 both ways but tempted to do a loop, but it might add a day?

    1. Sorry for the late reply! We went in mid-June. Which was definintely on the early side of the year. So the days weren't too hot and the park wasn't too pack; but you definitely take a risk with going that early. We also rented a cabin just outside the NE part of the park - and the road did wash out. So we had to make last minute other arrangements. In the end we managed to get a room in one of the park hotels. Perhaps there was a last minute cancellation or something because those usually sell out really early. I definitely think it's worth going through Oregon and Idaho. I-90 (especially through eastern WA) is so dreadfully boring. Eastern Oregon has some really cool places and depending on the age of your kids, it's nice to have some interesting pit stops along the way. But that's just me. We ended up driving from the northern border of the park (in MT) all the way home in one day. It was one heck of a long day but it's definitely do-able. But my advice would be to make it two days and put some interesting activities in there. Have an awesome trip!

  7. Loved your photos. Thank you!