The best memories of my Yellowstone trip didn’t involve Geysers, Hot Springs, or Bison. No—it involved moments when the only thing reminding us of civilization was us and the dirt path.
Unfortunately the drive from West Yellowstone to Cooke City was a long, gloomy day filled with rain, hail, and 40-degree temperatures. Compared to the Park’s lower half, these roads were trampled with less RVs, tour busses, and tourists. The roads were still a far cry from a ghost road through the Sahara, but stop areas were more spaced out and true wildlife took over. Lamar Valley is probably the most northern area of Yellowstone and although it was teeming with life we kept going. We passed signs for trails within the Valley but wanted an area with elevation and trees.
We hiked for a couple days around Cooke City… and hiking was my favorite part. Being from flat Florida, the closest thing to hiking up mountains was ascending the stairs at work. Although BF Shoes and I are healthy, relatively fit adults we made sure not to make our introduction to hiking goals too crazy. We were beginning hikers doing short, day excursions. We didn’t want to be complete newbs so we actually prepared. Our back packs contained water and flat, energetic snacks. Our boots had good grips. We wore sunscreen and hats. And it may sound silly but every few minutes we’d start clapping our hands and yelling loudly, “We. Don’t. Want. Bears!” —a bear scare is the real deal up here.
PETRIFIED TREE / LOST LAKE
I never thought this hike would become my favorite experience mostly because of all the problems that accompanied it. I had only intended to visit a Petrified Tree just 50 feet from the road (pretty underwhelming in appearance when compared to steaming water fountains shooting into the air) I wasn’t planning on hiking until BF Shoes saw the nearby sign. It wasn’t clear on distance or time but we grabbed our bags and followed. Three miles and two-and-a-half hours later my body and mind were still shocked from the unexpected physical effort it had just undertaken. The entire time we followed a dirt path a mere foot wide. Sometimes tree branches and shrubs got close enough to grab our clothes. And don’t forget the 45-degree temps. We’d sweat a little, take off our jackets, get cold again, put them on. Remix. Repeat. The sky was a beautiful blue until out of nowhere a strong, cold wind blew and suddenly snow drifted down. Later on tiny hail pelted us and finally drops of cold rain.
Ah. Nature. We couldn’t hide inside the nearest mall. And malls don’t have the constant fear of bear attacks.But nature was also beautiful. During the whole hike we only crossed paths with 12 other people. We didn’t hear any car engines or AC units except for when the path briefly crossed the Roosevelt Lodges. At the Trail’s beginning our dirt path was muddy and marked with the hooves of horses while a dashing stream snaked and danced nearby cutting a mini canyon into the ground. The tall, eerie tree-trunk remains of a forest fire surrounded us. Rounding a hill brought us to Lost Lake where tall, yellow grass swayed in waves with the wind. Suddenly we entered a forest and the path zig-zagged back and forth to safely bring us down a steep hill filled with vegetation. Just as quickly the trees vanished replaced with wildflowers as we trekked uphill. At the hill’s top we were exposed—the tallest creatures around—with flowers bowing.
COOKE CITY HIKING
The area east of Cooke City isn’t part of Yellowstone, but it’s still filled with enough vegetation and elevation changes to provide scenic hikes without needing to share the experience with others.
Before we even entered the trail near the Crazy Creek Campground the sound of water crashing against rocks was deafening. Although the path was short, it led us up the large, stone hill near the waterfall’s top. Instead of a typical vertical drop, the river rushed downward at a steep incline while it bubbled and crashed as it wound around the many huge rocks in the way.
The Clark’s Fork Trail began with several short boardwalks that led us to another noisy waterfall and a broken-down, old power plant at the fall’s base. Not challenging enough? Kersey Lake was beckoning us to find it with images of vast waters. The boardwalks quickly disappeared and soon we ran into… snow piles! There were no signs, markers, or anything manmade from there. The only way we figured we were even on a path was by footprints in the snow created from an unseen person.
This path leading to Kersey Lake was relatively level with dirt and stone piles thrown around. Mud sloshed under our boots and tiny streams of melted snow flowed. Physically the walk was easy. Mentally? I’m the one who caved in. With footprints being our only sign and my still-very-real fear of bears smelling lunch on my breath, I asked to retreat after less than an hour.
When a beautiful view of a rushing river framed by mountains made us park our car, BF Shoes walked ahead to take more photos. Shortly he came crashing back from the trees. He claimed to have seen a bear’s small footprint in the mud. You can call me honey but not food. We left.
I love my little home city, but there’s a mysterious lure to being surrounded by wild nature. When buildings and cars disappear you pay more attention to the marks on tree trunks and the sounds of birds. But there’s also an excitement resulting from not having control. I was in nature’s house—not vice versa. Maybe my fears were overimaginative but I kept seeing a bear rearing its head from behind a clump of bushes… or a snake crossing my path (I hate snakes)… or sliding down a canyon and twisting my ankle.
I know I will continue to crave this sliver of a natural experience until I can return to the trees again.
You heard me—pictures don’t capture having all your senses heightened! But if you still want to check out my album—not a lot of photos here because I was too busy watching my step—just click HERE or on any of the photos above.
Maybe it’s my Florida roots but my mind kept comparing Yellowstone to Walt Disney World. Weird right?—when did this national park ever resemble a musical containing rides involving flying elephants? During my “Geyser Day” traveling the area between West Yellowstone and the West Thumb of the Lake I visited Old Faithful and the huge crowds that shopped, ate, and bought souvenirs around the famous geyser reminded me strongly of the thick crowds that also attended Florida’s most famous theme park.
The Old Faithful Geyser is definitely Yellowstone’s most famous attraction. The huge parking lot stuffed with cars and lined with shops, restaurants, and a beautiful hotel in an otherwise building-scarce park are evidence of its popularity.
Until this point, Boyfriend Shoes and I have not seen an actual erupting geyser so we weren’t sure we’d recognize it until one of us accidently fell in and the coroner wrote the geyser’s name in as the cause of death. Several signs throughout the buildings predict the time of the next eruption (give or take 10 minutes). As the time of the predicted eruption approached, we made our way to the location where every bench and boardwalk bordering the small, stone hill were already conquered by other tourists. Old Faithful puffed clouds and kept looking like it would burst while toying with our emotions as many cameras raised multiple times thinking the eruption was about to start.
Then POOOOF! White water foam and steam exploded into the air as the crowd oohed and aahed. After almost seven minutes of extreme photography, Shoes and I had enough and wandered into the nearby visitor center.
UPPER GEYSER BASIN
While in the visitor center, an intercom voice announced the—voila!—upcoming once-a-day eruption of the Beehive Geyser. We trampled the boardwalk that led us safely over the smooth, stony ground towards an area about 100 feet away from the geyser. Suddenly from what looked like a stone chimney spout sticking out of the earth, the Beehive Geyser exploded straight up higher and more impressive than Old Faithful. Crowds cheered and those who had managed to snag boardwalk space even closer to the geyser came away laughing and soaked from the blowing steam.After conquering more of the Upper Geyser Basin, we managed to become even luckier tourists by viewing Castle Geyser’s eruption—another once-a-day geyser. When the Castle Geyser was just puffing steam, white smoke streamed steadily out of its large, stone mound created from ages of eruption and sediment buildup. This was the prettiest geyser there because during its eruption, tiny waterfalls of water cascaded down the sides of the ‘castle’ into running streams.
The Observation Deck is a small hike detouring from the rest of the main boardwalk path but offered a great view of the Upper Geyser Basin and Old Faithful in the distance. Although the ascent came fast with 200 feet up in just a half mile, the path was relatively easy and definitely worth the view.
MIDWAY GEYSER BASIN
Where’s the geysers? Perhaps my patience had blown away with the cold air, but I saw many large hot springs there but no geysers… unless they were all sleeping. White steam billowed everywhere and sometimes hid the boardwalk and gave the ethereal feeling of floating in the clouds.
Prismatic Springs was the grandest there and the equally large Excelsior Geyser Crater nearby delivered hints of heated color but only when the thick cloud of steam decided to lay up for a little. Otherwise they stayed shrouded.
FIREHOLE LAKE DRIVE
This is one of those short detour drives shooting away from the main road. Along the way our little Chevy came very close to thin towers of steam rising from the ground as well as silent geysers. BF Shoes and I patiently waited to see if we’d get lucky with both the White Dome Geyser (every 12-24 minutes but it never even splattered in the half hour we sat) and the Great Fountain Geyser (every 8-12 hours) but our luck with timed geysers had run out.
FOUNTAIN PAINT POTS
The Paint Pots was one of my favorite areas because in addition to the now-familiar hot springs (I could recognize one like family now) there were THREE unique sights there. The art pots were basically neutral makeup melted together in small bloop-blooping pools. It was almost comical to see the mud bubbles burst and splash tiny mud drops into the air.
And ARRGH I forget the name of it, but you can hear this steaming vent before you see it. BF Shoes and I aptly nicknamed it “Entry to Dante’s Inferno” because the steam escaping this mini cavern in the ground hissed so loudly and menacingly. It sounded like something ready to explode and the heated liquids inside just burst and splashed threateningly. We quickly moved away.
Finally, the geysers were all clustered in one area and were the coolest to observe. A few of them erupted on occasion, but several geysers like the Morning and Clepsydra Geysers continuously erupted. It was a Bellagio spectacle if the fountains decided to malfunction. It was a water warfare of mines blasting steam into the air.
Like Disney World I quickly learned Yellowstone visitors are quick to stop in the middle of their paths whether in car or foot to ogle sights. SLR cameras rule the electronics in people’s hands and there’s a huge chance you’ll run into packs of Chinese tourists. I’ve also grown accustomed to scanning my sights quickly left and right as soon as I see cars stopped road side or slowing down. Sometimes when I don’t see anything I get confused and question my eyesight, but most of the time I’ve seen wildlife in their natural settings
Meanwhile, click HERE or any of my photos above to be taken to my album.
In the anticipated battle between bison versus Chevrolet I said a prayer over my car insurance. “It’s heading for us!” Car windows were quickly rolled up as if the glass were an assumed bison deterrant. Yes—bison. And until you have three bison walking towards you in your car you will never experience the same fear mixed with awe as though an angry Hodor had decided to hug you. But these bison were like middle schoolers totally ignorant of all the cars stopped around them. The small herd was walking everywhere except roadside. One actually had their fur lightly graze my driver’s side mirror as they passed. I could’ve touched—but enough warnings told me not to. The window stayed up.
Welcome to Yellowstone National Park were bison traffic jams are common.
The little airport at Jackson Hole, WY began the introductions. As soon as I descended the stairs (!) from the plane the cold hit me. It’s freakin’ June! Less than 12 hours ago I was worshipping the air conditioning unit in my Florida apartment. Did I mention 12 hours? For the price Partner Shoes and I wanted, it took three planes to get us here and after grabbing our luggage and rental car, we still had a two-hour drive through two national parks to get to our West Yellowstone motel.
But the drive was anything but boring. We grew giddy upon seeing the herds of bison from a great distance. They were just relaxing on the great plains near Grand Teton National Park. It didn’t take long until the natural beauty of Yellowstone consumed and surrounded the road. These Floridians were simply fascinated. Mountains! Rushing rivers! It’s amazing what an elevated land can produce. Like waterfalls!—we oohed and aahed over the scenic Lewis Falls and wanted to venture closer than the viewpoint around 100 feet away but piles of snow blocked the path. Yes—snow! In June! I displayed my disappointment by aiming a snowball at Shoe’s back.
We had our first glimpse of Yellowstone’s volcanic base at the West Thumb Geyser Basin. I didn’t see my preconceived ideas of a geyser but saw lots of thick, white steam. The basin was a large, tree-less area where the ground was speckled with holes of all sizes. Some holes contained water and others didn’t but each one had clouds of steam escaping. In my near frozen state I wanted to escape the cold air and jump into one of the watering holes like relaxing in a comforting Jacuzzi, but many signs warn if you step off the boardwalk you’ll most likely explode from mysterious causes or sink into the center of the earth (at least, that’s what I think they said) In the distance two deer leaped from the woods, stomped loudly on the boardwalk ahead of us while jostling each other before warming themselves at further hot springs. I was definitely not in Florida any more.
Somehow our two-hour drive turned into four as we kept stopping at interesting points along the way. With cliffs rising above our road to the right and a rushing river to the left, that’s when we encountered the bison traffic jam before finally reaching West Yellowstone.
So far I’ve noticed in Yellowstone you can stand anywhere, dance like the Jabbawockeez while blindly pressing the shutter button on your camera and still have 100% of your photos be postcard worthy. I’m looking forward to spending more time entering a world where I’m not the one in control.
It’s my first Yellowstone day with many more photos and adventures to come. Just click here or on any of my photos above to be taken to the album of my Yellowstone introduction.
Why does dining solo during a vacation seem scarier than dining solo in your hometown?
I dine alone frequently. Not because my friends are put off by my chewing mannerisms but because I choose it that way. Let me eat in peace.
But during my recent solo Savannah trip, dining alone suddenly seemed frightening. Come on– I could still eat whatever I wanted whenever I wanted but this time it was tainted with wonderings. If I had a good meal who can I share that moment with? And that’s not even bringing up my constant problem of eating like a grazer. Wanting to taste lots of varieties of food at one establishment works with friends but gets expensive when solo.
As I wandered between different blocks of the Historic District, I entered one of the many artsy coffees shops frequented by the Savannah Art students (SCAD) called Gallery Espresso. My eyes and feet felt the most satisfied from the warm decor and a place to sit and people watch. However two of my items ordered brought weak and old flavors. How do you mess up a Frozen Espresso or a Cookie? By making it nothing but chunky ice and being left out. At least the Spinach and Feta Scone was unique and tasted like each ingredient inside.
If you’re dining alone in an area, it’s best to stick to tourist hubs even if you don’t want to. There’s a built-in safety typically.Unfortunately, like most tourist hubs while there’s many dining options most of them serve very underwhelming food. Think lots of sandwiches and fried stuff with the occasional Peachy alcoholic drink just to throw in a few Georgia ties.
I was determined to find something decent in this area. Planter’s Tavern is below the famous Olde Pink House Restaurant and also oozes simple elegance. Worries immediately slipped away as I was greeted upon entry by a duo playing jazzy-inspired tracks through a piano and a cello. This small and intimate tavern quickly had me scanning for where I could fit in among all the dark wood and inviting seats. Unfortunately, at 9pm on a Saturday there wasn’t even room for one. I hovered for a while hoping to steal the seat of an unfortunate person who wandered away… but everyone held fast to their chairs. I wanted to plant myself closest to the music soon after made the cruel decision to seek an evening elsewhere.
That’s how I found myself along River Street- the essence of a tourist hub. All I freakin’ wanted was live music and a decent menu. Have I been that spoiled with St. Pete’s music scene? None. None. None. Tubby’s Seafood didn’t have live music, but their trade-off was balcony seating overlooking the busy park where it seemed all of Savannah had gathered for music and partying. Tubby’s was… well… it had the menu of something you’d expect from a tourist-saturated area. Pun-ny names and seafood lacking creativity AND lacking that home-cooked feeling. Sigh.. at least the view was interesting.
For a lunch I ate at the heavily popular Lady and Sons— restaurant of southern personality and chef Paula Deen. Luckily the website made it easy for me to snag a reservation at this Savannah hot spot. That Sunday only the buffet was offered. Although there were only a dozen hot options, they were a great variety of ‘southern staples’ like Fried Chicken, Barbequed Pork, and Mac N’ Cheese. For the price this was a great buffet but I’m very sure its popularity rests mostly in the popularity of its star owner.
My clever idea—I never had to seek out breakfast or snacks because I packed them from home and kept them cool in a cooler in my car and refrigerated overnight. Money saved!
I’m sure many Savannah Travelers are tearing their hair out in reading of all the tourist-traps I visited. How can I judge Savannah cuisine if I didn’t eat at any places known for it? I had an encyclopedia of recommendations from friends and I barely had time to crack it. I dined in locations that happened to be in my way and barely tasted all there was offered because I couldn’t share it with others. Oh well– I never expect restaurants in tourist locations to be great and all of my Savannah dining certainly fit that stereotype.
At least there was always great people-watching. And I used my dining time to catch up on my phone as well as write. Savannah – next time I will uncover your food scene.