Tag Archives: road trip

Moving Along

Let’s continue along the road.

(Previous blog posts)

And so it begins…to Aspen

Bear Necessities

Leaving Aspen…Good Riddance

Camping can be a lot of work. It’s all the little things that start to add up. Sure, putting up the tent isn’t really hard, nor is taking it down, but it’s just harder than say, not doing that. Then you add in all the bedding set up, especially the therma-rest mattresses, and making dinner, setting up camp chairs, and then doing all this out of a Corolla where one of the doors is basically taped shut…it can be a pain. Once you are sitting around by a crackling fire, enjoying the outdoors, drinking a delicious Colorado craft beer…it’s definitely worth it. Or when you are sitting there and a small fox walks through your camp…worth it. But other times, gosh, it seems like a lot of work, and for what?

My last post reminded me of all my doubts and uncertainty during that segment of our trip. But anyway, lest you think I am ungrateful, I am not. I am fully grateful for being able to take 3 weeks off with Louie and travel! Sure it’d probably be nicer to be staying in hotels mostly, but since that’s just not in the budget, camping it is. And some of these campgrounds are better than being indoors anyway! (You need to realize, if you are reading this and saying, how can they afford to travel, that gas is really inexpensive now, camping is $18-30 a night, food costs the same as not traveling since we mostly cook, and our National Parks pass is still good from last year when we bought it for $80. So each day of the trip is costing $50-70 for the two of us, as a rough estimate.)

Okay, all that being said. Not sad, as I originally wrote. We woke up and packed up the tent, the bedding, all of that, and got on our way. We drove through Estes Park on the way out of Rocky Mountain National Park and took a quick walk around the lake there. We took the Peak to Peak highway through Nederland as we had done the previous year though this time we continued through Black Hawk and Central City. It was a gorgeous drive! Then we headed west on I-70.

We ate a late lunch in Frisco at a mexican restaurant. I wanted to visit Breckenridge where I’d spent a few summers (at a music festival) but I didn’t want to just pop in for an hour, so we skipped it. I will return. Frisco is nice in its own way, and we had a decent meal. Then we picked up some beer for later at a liquor store. In Colorado you can’t buy regular percent beer at the grocery store, you have to go to a liquor store for that. Looking back, we should have stocked up more but we didn’t realize that all the beer in Utah was going to be watered down. Religious freedom!

The drive across Colorado is a beautiful one. After we passed Glenwood Canyon we were on a new part of the road for us. I’d found a few mentions of Colorado National Monument in my research and decided we should pop through. I made a reservation at Saddlehorn Campground(site 36). We got to the Monument around 5 pm, and started on the east/Grand Junction side (you can enter through Grand Junction or Fruita). The Rim Rock drive goes all the way through the monument and the campground is at the west side.

Right off the bat we took a short hike called the Devil’s Kitchen. The weather looked potentially raining for a bit but it passed. We LOVED the monument right away because it was deserted and so different than anything we had seen!

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After the short hike (1.5 miles round trip) we continued along the Rim Rock Drive. This was a windy road at the top of the canyons, and I was a little terrified at times. We did lots of stopping and looking and taking pictures, and it was great. I think we’d finally left our bad moods behind (well, briefly at least) and were just enjoying being tourists.

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It was about 20 miles along the windy road to get to the campground and we kept stopping. The sun was setting and it was simply beautiful!

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As amazing as the sunset was (pictures naturally don’t do it justice) we wanted to get to the campground before dark, and we just managed it. Our campsite was beautiful and we realized we could set up our tent quite a way from the road and enjoy the solitude and night views! The campground is high up and overlooks the town of fruita and the monument. It was absolutely gorgeous and probably my favorite of all our campgrounds…at least one of them.

And we were delighted that we didn’t need to worry about bears! There were no bear boxes, no signs about bears, and the trash cans weren’t bear proof! We always keep a clean camp, but a bear proof camp is much more challenging.

The next morning we didn’t have too much time, but decided to do a short hike before seeking a shower and heading to Moab, Utah. We ended up at the visitor’s center just as a ranger led hike was getting started so we tagged along.  It was really informative: we learned about the geology of the area and the stratigraphy—it seemed overwhelming at the time, but I’m so glad we went on the walk as the next two weeks were spent learning about similar things and the original ranger talk really helped us understand! Basically all the formations were created by land being pushed up and then eroding away over time.

I did have a little fall towards the end of the hike, after Louie and I had left and were heading back. Luckily it wasn’t near the edge and I only cut the palm of my hand a little bit and skinned my knee.

We found showers at a nearby RV park for $7 each (pricey, but we hadn’t showered since Aspen) and washed up—it felt fantastic! And then we headed to Moab, Utah, for our next stop. The ranger at CNM had recommended a particular scenic route so we headed that way.

I think that’s enough for now. I’ve got a bunch of things to do today but I wanted to write something! I keep feeling like I don’t sound like I enjoyed my trip…I did. I also am grateful for all we got to see and do! It wasn’t a relaxing vacation though, I keep saying that, but I keep thinking about it. I am tired, I’m back to work and I’m tired, and I’m not really sure what that means.

More soon!

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(We want to return to Colorado National Monument and do more hiking! And stay another night at Saddlehorn: it was breathtaking, and we’d love to do more. The bathrooms were very nice and clean, the campground was quiet. We had trouble finding the trash cans but otherwise it was great. Oh, and the rangers were really helpful and friendly, the best we met on the trip.)

Nights camping: 5

Hiking miles (best estimate): 26

Leaving Aspen…Good Riddance

 

I suppose I shouldn’t have a dislike of Aspen, but I do! First off, before even going, so many people said, oh, why go to Aspen? Well, we had our family reasons, but UGH after the bear attack…

And so it begins…to Aspen

Bear Necessities

Read those first!

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So we spent the day of the bear incident cleaning up. At first we’d thought we’d camp another night and then we realized that was crazy…the bear KNEW our car would have food and now it was even less secure. So we managed to crash at Louie’s dad’s place for a night, but frankly, we were cranky and tired and ready to leave.

The next morning we did, after loading up. We had breakfast at the Main Street Bakery, which would have been really nice except I suddenly wasn’t feeling well and ended up sitting outside on a bench for most of the meal. Altitude sickness? Definitely not morning sickness, which was what a woman at the “community table” suggested to me.

Louie and I were headed to Rocky Mountain National Park next. Yes, it was backtracking, but that’s how we did it. Don’t judge. We had a reservation for two nights at Moraine Campground, which was a different campground than we stayed at the previous year. We decided to leave Aspen via Independence Pass which is a pretty fantastic drive!

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Things that are truly awful: the vault toilets at the parking lot for the top of Independence Pass.

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I was starting to feel a bit better, but not great. Louie drove since I am terrified of mountain driving and he loves it. I won’t lie, some of our fun and excitement was gone. We were tired and stressed, we couldn’t use one of the doors of the car, and we were worried that another bear would attack the car. And now we were driving several hours back east to go somewhere that we didn’t even know if we wanted to go.

We’d been to Rocky Mountain National Park the year before and we’d figured why not return for another short visit. We’d really only have one full day there, but it seemed worth it in the planning stages. Naturally everything took longer than I planned (things to remember) but I think we were still happy, deep down Winking smile

We came into the park from the West side. The scenery was absolutely gorgeous. This was on the Trail Ridge Road, in case you are trying to recreate our trip. Oh, and I should mention, before getting to the park, we made a few stops along the way to try to get a new cooler, since the bear ruined ours. The day before we’d looked around Aspen for one, but everything was super expensive. We ended up buying a $4 styrofoam one to tide us over, figuring we’d easily find a cheaper one. That was a mistake. We saw a $350 cooler at Bed, Bath and Beyond…made the $75 cooler at the hardware store in Aspen look like a bargain! We finally found a reasonably priced one at a Target, but it was small. Oh well.

So we came in on the Trail Ridge Road from the West Side, like I started to tell you a minute ago. Most visitors enter the park on the East Side, so this was definitely the less crowded way to do it! The entrance gate was closed when we arrived so we didn’t get to flash our season pass. I guess probably we were supposed to show it somewhere but it was pretty unclear.

I wanted us to immediately get into tourist/photo taking mood, but it was hard. Louie was tired, I was tired, and we were just worried and stressed. We stopped and enjoyed the views (the Trail Ridge Road is the highest paved road in the US, I believe) but mostly we wanted to get to the campsite and possibly just go to sleep.

By 6:00 or so we got to the Moraine Campground. I’d booked us a “walk-in” site, which seemed like a good idea at the time—the description said you would have to walk a bit from your car to the campsite, which I figured gave more privacy and quiet. What we didn’t realized was that it was up a hill, not terribly private, and that there wasn’t a very convenient bear box (metal box bears can’t open for you to store your food.)

On the one hand, we had a great story. On the other hand, we didn’t want to leave any open food or scented items in the car and we were stressed. We managed to organize things and make room in a nearby bearbox, and we set up our tent, and finally relaxed a bit. Our plan was to get up very early and do a hike out of the Bear Lake Trailhead. Bear Lake is a very popular Trailhead, so we wanted to get there by 7 am or so.

So, we got up, had a quick breakfast, and got moving. People tend to get up early in campgrounds and this one was no exception. I’d slept okay, except I could hear a nearby person snoring! The privacy was not great. We were on the top of a little rocky hill, which was cool, but hard to get to the car or the bathroom!

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There was a rainbow shortly after we arrived though, which was very pretty.

Oh, and a raven or magpie ate one of our sandwiches! I’d packed two and put them in baggies on the table…and when we weren’t looking a bird knocked one on the ground and pecked at it! So I had to pack another, but that was okay.

We got to the parking lot at the Trailhead quite early, maybe by 6:45/7 am. It was only 1/3 to 1/2 full, but by the time we were “geared up” and got our boots on the lot was full! There is a shuttle system you can use, but it didn’t seem terribly convenient from our campground so we wanted to drive if possible. And here’s where blogging a month later (almost) makes you forget things! I recall Louie drove in his pajamas to the trailhead to save time, but I don’t remember what time we got up, nor did I make a note of it. Oh well.

I’d selected the “4 lakes loop” for our day hike. It seemed like it covered a good bit of ground that we hadn’t hiked in the past and would be a gorgeous way to spend the day. We weren’t disappointed!

We “warmed up” by walking around Bear Lake first. It was very pretty and the air was nice and cool.

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We had to do a bit of climbing to get to Nymph Lake, but it was very pretty with all the lilies. This part of the hike was pretty crowded with people, but we knew that would be the case. We did all the add on portions of the hike too: Bear, Nymph, Dream, Emerald (had a lovely snack in a private area near Emerald lake and rested for 20 minutes or so—it was nice to avoid people for a bit!), then Lake Haiyaha-the hike up to that lake was absolutely gorgeous with amazing views! After Lake Haiyaha we went to Mills Lake which was my favorite and went to Jewel Lake too, which was a little anticlimatic. We had lunch sitting by Mills Lake and rested for awhile. Louie walked around to an island nearby but I wasn’t up for going off path. After a long rest there we headed back down, past Alberta Falls (we’d been there the year before) and then a long uphill from the Glacier Gorge Trailhead back to Bear Lake and our car, which was still there and not re-attacked by Bears!

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Looking down on Nymph Lake

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I believe this was Dream Lake

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And I believe this was Emerald Lake.

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Hiking towards Lake Haiyaha. Lots of lakes in view!

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Almost missed this amazing view which was just a little ways off the trail.

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Mills Lake…just gorgeous.

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Louie exploring the island—can you see him? We could hear each other talking the whole time. Alpine Lakes are seriously the best. He said there were lots of cobwebs.

Anyway, as much as I’m terrible at describing hikes (or just not in the mood Winking smile/already forgot) it was a great hike! I think it took us about 7 hours with lots of stops, and we had a great time.

We got back to the camp and just relaxed for the rest of the day. One thing we didn’t see much of was WILDLIFE. The previous year we’d seen ton, but we just didn’t see much. (of course we’d had quite a lot of evidence of wildlife, but very few sightings.)

The next morning we got up early to head out. We were heading west to Grand Junction and Colorado National Monument. In the early hours of the morning we woke up to the sound of whooping and howling—we realized it was a bunch of coyotes making a lot of racket!

Anyway, it was a nice but short visit to Rocky Mountain National Park. I think I preferred our campground the year before (Glacier Basin) but it was nice to try something new. The bathrooms were pretty dirty and the dumpsters were overflowing! We had a nice fire each night though, and Colorado is just gorgeous.

This part of the trip was emotionally difficult for me. I felt like the bear had really stolen our excitement and happiness, and we were just worried what else would go wrong. I felt tired already and that I hadn’t planned well enough (it might be true, but still, I should have been enjoying the moment!) and that I was just worried more things would go wrong. 2016 has been one thing going wrong after another…but this was a vacation! No time for complaining, time for fun! (And rolling thermarest mattresses, so much rolling of mattresses.)

Camping days: 4

Hiking miles (best estimate): 22

And so it begins…to Aspen

I love traveling. I love planning travel. AND I love writing about travel after the fact, but I’ll admit it’s the most daunting and perhaps the least fun part of it. This past trip was a doozy! How do I write about it? The best way, I suppose, is simply to put my fingers on the keyboard, have my photos at the ready, and GO!

So. We set out on a lovely Wednesday morning towards the end of July. My sister Carrie had been staying with me for a few days (we’d even gone on a float trip with her-it was a raincheck from Memorial Day that needed to be used) and she was staying behind for another day. Timing…but she was able to dog sit for a bit and then my friend April would be doing so afterwards (until she moved to DC, so sad!)

Louie and I planned to drive to Denver in one day. It’s a long drive, but possible. The following day we had reservations at the Difficult Campground in Aspen, so we wanted to get a good chunk of the drive behind us.

I’d been a little stressed out about my trip planning. I’d made a few rash decisions on camping reservations (based on availability and panic) and we were moving around nearly every night! I’d also really wanted to go back to Rocky Mountain NP for a few days, but then it ended up we wanted to be in Aspen for a few days to visit Louie’s dad, and then the timing got mixed up and our itinerary had us backtracking several hours. I have some regrets…but I’ll consider them things to learn from, and honestly, most of it worked out pretty well and we got to see more than we might have otherwise. But there were stressors, and things I was worried about, more so than in previous trips.

We’d tried to organize the trunk in a certain way, in order to facilitate staying organized. Over the next week or so things would solidify into a true plan, but there were some bumps. Here’s the trunk starting out!

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Note: car camping for three weeks out of a Toyota Corolla is a challenge. Plus I’d purchased some of my favorites from Trader Joe’s, since I didn’t think we’d encounter any of those along the way, and it took up a fair amount of room. The backseat had the cooler, various shoes, all the clothes, backpacks, and camp chairs. Here you see the food, dishes, stove, sleeping bags, and the tent and sleeping pads (thermarests) are in there too. There are three bins with different categories: food, food prep, and non food prep.

Anyway! A tradition of driving to Colorado is stopping in Kansas City at Arthur Bryant’s for barbecue. On the one hand, I’ve become mostly a pescatarian. On the other hand, I said mostly.

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I had the burnt end sandwich with beans and it didn’t disappoint. And the pickles! I am such a pickle lover. Why, yes, I’m waxing poetic over the pickles on a barbecue platter.

Anyway, the day went by uneventfully. Missouri goes by quickly, Kansas takes longer.  And then there’s that part of Colorado that really just seems like it should be Kansas.

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The wind farms are always fun to drive by, and we were just pumped up to finally be on vacation and hitting the road. It’s been a hard year, a stressful year, and we keep trying to get away and relax. Spoiler: we didn’t relax on this trip, but we did get away.

We’d hoped to find a cheap hotel in the Denver area but failed. I wanted to have a chill night of oh, let’s just walk into a place that looks good, as one would have on a road trip 30 years ago. But I instead started to panic and ended up spending way too much on a terrible Motel 6 near the airport. Oh, and we had dinner at McDonald’s along the way and got to watch part of the DNC…doesn’t that seem so long ago? McDonald’s has “fish” sandwiches, which are actually pretty terrible, but not too bad for food on the road I guess.

The morning came and with it, a nearby Denny’s. When the calorie counts are listed on the menu you find yourself ordering things like fruit and whole wheat pancakes.

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This guy was both creepy and a little adorable. 60/40? 30/70? Anyway, then we hit the road. Into the mountains of Colorado we went!

On the way to Aspen Louie’s dad recommended we try a hike called the Shrine Pass hike, which is just on this side of Vail. He described it as “easy” so we forgot that 8000-10000 feet of altitude requires some adjustment. I was getting visually a bit blurry after we went through the Eisenhower Tunnel, and was super thirsty and a bit headachy…this should have told me something. In a nutshell, the hike was extremely challenging. I was short of breath and felt terrible! I should tell readers that I spent two summers in Breckenridge at a music festival, and firstly, I love the area: Breckenridge is like heaven, and secondly, altitude is no joke. It can take a few days to adjust, and one at mile high wasn’t enough.

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The baconesque popcorn was really puffy from the altitude!

The hike was probably really beautiful (it was, really) but I was feeling pretty awful and it was too hard. 4.2 miles round trip.

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Okay, sure, Colorado is beautiful.

After the hike we hit the road again towards Aspen. We had a reservation for 3 nights at the Difficult Campground, a few miles from the town of Aspen. Louie’s dad was working there for a bit and he wasn’t sure if he would have room for us to stay with him.

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This raccoon was posing and begging for us, but we know better than to feed wild animals. Well…mostly.

We got to the campsite and had to set up the tent and everything, and then he came to pick us up for dinner.

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We set up the tent towards the back of the site.

It’s hard doing things normally while camping. For instance: our campsite didn’t have flush toilets, only vault toilets and water out of a spigot. So we couldn’t shower or freshen up for a dinner out very well. When you are camping and hiking and only around other people doing the same things, this isn’t a big deal, but when you are hanging out with people who are staying in a real house with running sinks and showers and wearing regular clothes, it’s odd. I had to reconcile myself to the fact that I wasn’t as put together as I would have liked to be, but the dinner sure was delicious.

The next morning we took a hike that left right near the campsite, called the Difficult Trail.

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The description of it, in an old book, said that it was 3 miles one way and that there was a point where the trail wasn’t maintained anyway, but you could pick your way through for awhile. The trail was quite steep at first, but it was really nice, shady and in the woods.

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Lots of boulders and trees and cool stuff to look at. We had a few times where we had to climb over some logs and follow cairns but didn’t think too much of it until the trail ran out entirely, and we realized it seemed we’d gone about 4.5 miles!

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So I think we actually hiked all the way to the end of the UNmaintained part before heading back: I’ll say 9 miles RT. It was nice though, and then we met up with Louie’s dad and wife, and walked around Aspen for a bit. We’d thought about having dinner at the campground due to their work schedule, but ended up having a later dinner at their condo. We didn’t get “home” until nearly 11 pm and were exhausted: that’s very late for camping since the sun tends to wake you up early!

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So that’s enough of the first post here. Our plan for the next day was to wake up early and do another hike. I want to keep track of our hiking mileage too.

Hiking so far: 13.5 miles

Days camping: 2 nights

The end of the Road (Road Trip Part 7)

If you haven’t been keeping up, here are parts 1-6. Excessive? Not for a 19 day trip…

Part 1: There and Back Again

Part 2: Bouldering in Boulder

Part 3: Camping isn’t so bad

Part 4: There really is no place like Wyoming

Part 5: Yellowstone…everything here is more amazing than anywhere else

Part 6: Yellowstone again because one post was taking me entirely too long to write

And here we are at Part 7 of the Road Trip Summer 2015 Trip Recaps. Did I say trip too many times? I’ve been procrastinating this post, and I’ll be honest: I haven’t finished writing about it by hand either (I kept a notebook journal on the trip) so I have pictures, short notes for each day, and my memories to rely on here. I’d better get something written, haven’t I? Eyewitness accounts are notoriously unreliable!

Why am I procrastinating so much? Well, other than the fact that life and work are happening here…it’s because after Yellowstone the trip was a letdown. It had to happen. Everything we were doing was just so awesome, and then we left Yellowstone and headed east, and mentally we knew we were heading home, and honestly, no offense to the entire TripAdvisor South Dakota Forums, but Custer State Park and everything around Mount Rushmore is just not as awesome. Sorry!

But I am procrastinating EVEN MORE.

We left off with leaving Yellowstone. Louie and I decided to drive the Beartooth Highway after leaving Yellowstone. Charles Kuralt called it “the most beautiful drive in America.”  It took us WAY up high, and there were tons of switchbacks, and I was mostly terrified and Louie had a great time driving it.

Some gorgeous views along the way!

It was cold and windy at the top, and it was a neat drive. I’m glad we did it. After that, we ended in the town of Red Lodge, Montana, which looked cute, but the first few hotels we looked at were full, so we made an online reservation at the “Western Inn” in Lowell, WY, and off we went. We’d decided tonight was a hotel night, and couldn’t wait. We also wanted to eat dinner at a restaurant.

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(Along the way Louie took some pictures of sheep.)

We made it to the Western Inn. Lowell was a very small town, and the Western Inn was a little…well, there were bikers out and it looked like a pretty run-down, rent by the week type of place, and for approximately $45, we kind of expected it. The room was clean enough looking, though very out of date, and the owner also seemed to run a diner out of the lobby called the “Cauc-Asian” diner (she was of Asian descent) though, we couldn’t figure out how the diner worked. We ended up eating dinner at a restaurant called the Brandin’ Iron, and I had fried shrimp with fries, and we split apple cobbler for dessert. That and a few cold beers had never tasted better. And the Brandin’ Iron was amazing in so many ways, especially if you are looking at it from the point of city slicker snobs like Louie and I are 😉

Now, the other thing to know is that we hadn’t managed to get a shower in since our first night in the Tetons. We must have smelled amazing, and looked good too. After dinner I was able to enjoy the most desperately needed shower of my entire life. Seriously, it was amazing. And I slept really well in the bed.

Day 15: We woke up and considered trying to eat at the Cauc-Asian diner but I freaked out because it smelled odd and I just didn’t really understand how it worked. We also desperately needed to do laundry, and then get to the Devil’s Tower and then to Custer State Park in South Dakota, so I was having a stressed out day and was having a hard time with it. We got muffins at a gas station for breakfast and then headed east. On the way east we drove through the Bighorn Mountains which were really nice, though we were getting sad that we were nearing the end of our mountains. The whole time we’d had a Garmin hooked up for navigation and it kept track of our elevation. For days and days we’d been at over 8000 feet, and then up to nearly 11,000 feet, and suddenly we were getting lower and lower.

We found a laundromat around lunchtime and managed to do laundry while getting tex-mex and also grocery shopping in Buffalo, WY. The cashier at the grocery store was quite interested in our sparkling water, and she couldn’t believe it didn’t have high-fructose corn syrup.

Then it was time for the Devil’s Tower. We’d had started listening to the podcast “Serial” but once we got to the middle of nowhere, truly, that’s where the Devil’s Tower is!

We enjoyed walking around it and not being in the car for a little while, but we still had nearly 2 more hours to go until we got to our campground reservation at Custer State Park so we didn’t spend too much time there.

We did spent some time photographing these little guys though: prairie dogs.

The best part of the National Parks, with the possible exception of the amazing scenery, is all the wildlife.

It was dark by the time we got to Custer State Park. I’d made a reservation for two nights at Grace Coolidge Campground, and there wasn’t a place to check in—it was just “show up at your campsite”… and somebody was in ours. It took awhile to find it in the dark, and there was a truck parked in it and people had a fire. We verified with another camper that we were looking at the right site (she had come out to see what all the lights were about) and I guess I’d said, darkly, “so those are the people who are in our site!” The man came over and apologized and said he thought it was first-come, first-served…we’d made our reservations over a month prior! And the signage was clear. He said they would clear out as quickly as they could, so we drove around for a bit to give them space, but it was raining off and on and we were getting nervous, so we headed back. Both of us felt bad kicking this man and his wife out of their site—they were in the middle of cooking dinner too—but the fact was, the signs were clear that if you didn’t have a reservation you needed to call, and it was only about 9:30 pm, not midnight, and we did have the reservation. Sigh. It was hard to feel quite as nice about our campsite knowing we’d had to kick somebody out for it.  We made a quick dinner ourselves and a little fire and then enjoyed the nearby creek sounds as we fell asleep.

Day 16: Today we wanted to hike up to the tallest point in South Dakota, Harney Peak. I’d read it was a difficult hike and might take us 5-6 hours. We got a slightly later start than usual, by about 3 hours and decided that was okay, and we were just worn out and tired from our vacation. (Life. Hard.)

We drove on the “Needles Highway” to get to the trailhead. It was a crazy drive, with all these rock formations and some one-lane tunnels through rocks.

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The hike was nice. It ended up being only about 3-4 hours, and wasn’t nearly as strenuous as we’d thought. Granted, we still got passed by the young and the elderly as I’m a slow hiker, but we felt in pretty darned good shape!

Louie did a bit more exploring at the time while I rested on my laurels.

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After finishing our hike, the other thing I really wanted to do was drive the Wildlife Loop in the park. Since we were done with our hike early we decided to go see the town of Custer (we’d both been to the area in the past, Louie more recently, and we just decided against Mount Rushmore and some other things in order to do different things than he remembered). Well, overall Custer was an awful town, but we stopped at Ester’s Sausage House, at first for coffee, and maybe dessert, and then decided to have beer and sausage instead (obviously more logically) and also bread pudding.

Towards sunset is the best time to see wildlife, so that’s when we hit the Wildlife Loop. One thing that is crazy is that there are these wild burros roaming around, but they are actually tame (they are descended from burros that used to carry people up to Harney Peak in the past but were set free at some point) and go up to the cars! People feed them (this is a case of where feeding animals is okay) and they are pretty pushy, actually. But cute.

We didn’t see too much other wildlife other that the burros and more prairie dogs and were getting disappointed…we did see where a young burro had gotten stuck in a horse pen, away from its mother and were a little upset, so we stopped at the next ranger station to tell them (so they could let the baby burro out), and then the next thing we found were…

Bison!!! And a good old-fashioned bison jam (also sounds like a delicious product to spread on toast, no?). Smaller in scale than at Yellowstone but no less delightful. It was our last bison jam and we thoroughly enjoyed it. Interesting fact from my diaries of the trip in 1991 with my family: we saw bison at the exact same point then.

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After that we returned to our campsite for more dinner and relaxing. Overnight it started to rain…

Day 17:

We awoke to pouring rain. We both stayed in the tent as long as possible, but realized that yes, we did need to leave by noon, and at some point had to pack up. Originally we’d thought maybe we would do another hike in Custer, or something else, but we checked the forecast, and the Badlands were supposed to get a lot of rain the following day, so we decided to leave and try to see them before the rain ruined everything there. It was not fun packing up in the rain!

On our way to the Badlands (about a 2 hour drive) we saw a bunch of pronghorns! They are kind of like antelope, and we were excited to see them.

I’d made a reservation at the KOA White River. As a child, the KOA campgrounds were my favorite so I thought it would be fun to stay in one for old-time’s sake. I was also worried (originally) that it was going to be too hot and sunny in the Badlands National Park campground, and having a place with shade would be nicer. It turned out I shouldn’t have worried about that, but having showers and nice bathroom facilities was nice! We set up our tent, had lunch, and then headed to the Badlands, about 10 minutes away. This was definitely a “free”visit on our America the Beautiful pass (Devil’s Tower was another one that was covered). The clouds threatened, but we managed to see a lot of things.

We started with the Notch Trail. As a kid I had been too scared to go up this ladder on the trail, and as an adult I was pretty scared, but I figured if I could climb the stairs on Uncle Tom’s Trail at Yellowstone this was no big deal. On our way BACK to the car a pair of pronghorns ran by us, over the formations and around the corner. It was so neat to see how fast they moved.

We drove around the Badlands Loop next, and stopped at a variety of overlooks. It was cold and windy, which was definitely a surprise, but the views were still really beautiful.

We saw a bunch more prairie dogs, and a small pack of goats (that blocked the road) and a lone bighorn sheep, though we didn’t even realize it at the time and thought it was a male goat—it was neat to realize it was a bighorn sheep since that was one we hadn’t “checked off” yet!

I wanted to drive on the Sage Rim Road, which is a gravel road where the bison and other wildlife/views are, but it was sadly, closed due to too much rain. According to the ranger too many cars had gotten stuck so they closed the rain. Disappointed, we headed back to our campsite.

Our little tent on the last night of camping. Notice how Louie likes to put the hatchet into a stump. We made a lovely fire and had a typical meal and just enjoyed being outside for the last night.

Day 18:

We had awoken several times during the night to some terrifying storms. Lightning and thunder and wind like you wouldn’t believe, and I was relieved that the tent survived and that we didn’t have to evacuate or something! I didn’t know if there was a tornado warning system, or something like that. I was glad we’d gotten to enjoy every night with dinner and a fire outside, but man, packing up all of our wet tent parts for the second day in a row wasn’t that fun. We got the car loaded up—the rain had mostly let up, and we drove through the Badlands on our way to highway 90.

The rest of the trip that day was uneventful. We finished the Serial podcast, and decided to try to get to Kansas City. We’d originally planned to eat at a restaurant Louie recalled, La Bodega, but their hours online weren’t correct and they were closing as we arrived. We ate at a nearby Mexican restaurant called El Pueblito and had wonderful margaritas and shrimp tacos, before checking into a suite at a 4 star hotel, the Crown Plaza, that we found on Priceline for around $75. It was…a bit nicer than our previous hotel. We walked to The Yardhouse, a nearby pub, for a nightcap before turning in.

Day 19:

One of the reasons we got our room for so cheap was the fact that the hotel was under construction. Around 9 am we awoke to loud construction noises…but we decided to relax, order room service, and enjoy the amenities (including a wonderful shower..) until nearly noon when we had to check out. From Kansas City to St Louis is about a 4 hour drive…and then we were home. Safe and sound.

The end! I’m so proud to finally have finished my trip recaps, even though I feel like I rushed this one—sometimes you just have to sit down and WRITE. Thanks for reading, and if you have any questions or comments let me know.

Yellowstone…everything here is more amazing than anywhere else (Road Trip Part 5)

Part 1: There and Back Again

Part 2: Bouldering in Boulder

Part 3: Camping isn’t so bad

Part 4: There really is no place like Wyoming

Day 11, continued:

We drove into Yellowstone through the Southern entrance. Right after entering the park a coyote went across the road. That was, in retrospect, the first sign that Yellowstone was going to be an amazing time!

Honestly. One of the reasons I’ve had trouble getting started on this post is because we just did so darned much in Yellowstone, and I took so, SO many pictures. I’d been to Yellowstone as a kid, in 1991, and I remember really enjoying it, but man, oh man, I had no idea. Just no idea.

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One thing to know is that the park is huge. Nearly 3500 square miles. We had three nights of camping reservations, and then we would have to leave. So we weren’t going to be able to see it all, and in fact, we would be lucky to see the highlights!

Anyway, we entered the park and then had about an hour of driving until we’d get to our campground, and since it had already been a very long (and wonderful) day at this point, we decided to mostly drive straight there with perhaps an occasional photo stop. Like the above one at Lake Yellowstone…which made us say, Tetons who?

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We found Bridge Bay campground within any trouble, and went to check in. Check in was really busy, but well organized. There are nearly 500 sites at the campground, so you can imagine that around evening plenty of folks are checking in! We got a very nice wooded site where our tent was tucked into a corner with nice privacy—the views weren’t like Glacier Bay in RMNP but the woods were lovely and the lakeview was a short walk away.

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This was a great picture…except the construction truck drove into it. And then started setting up for construction so things only got worse. But really, it was a quick walk from the campground!

I should also mention: when I checked in the ranger was VERY stern about the bear safety rules, and in fact I had to sign that I understood and agreed to properly store all food and toiletries, and in fact we weren’t even allowed to have WATER in the tent with us. We could keep things in the car trunk though, which I’m told isn’t an option in Yosemite, so there’s that. Anyway, our first night at the campsite, basically, we set up the tent, went for a walk, made a fire, and ate dinner. And that was that!

Day 12: Our first full day in Yellowstone! I’m excited just remembering how awesome it was.

We decided to tackle the lower loop of the road through Yellowstone on this day. (It’s a figure 8). Basically, today was GEYSER day.

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Here you can see Lake Yellowstone and see the West Thumb area (I think) with the geysers and other thermal features. The West Thumb Geyser Basin, as it’s called, was our first stop for the day. We were there before 8 am and just barely beat a busload of tourists! Luckily there was enough room for everyone, though we had to duck around folks taking selfies and whatnot, but the boardwalks are pretty roomy. Being around these thermal features was like being in a different world: after spending nearly two weeks in the mountains, we were (mostly) used to them, but hot water and steam coming out of the ground? Totally new and weird!

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We learned so much about the thermal features over the course of the day. I enjoyed West Thumb because they were set right up against the backdrop of the beauty of Lake Yellowstone and the nearby mountain ranges…the steam from the various thermal features is otherworldly. I could definitely see why nobody believed the first explorers!

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We got back on the road and headed towards Old Faithful. We made a quick stop to look at a waterfall.

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One thing that started hitting us about Yellowstone was that these little side stops that hardly anybody visited, random water falls and such…these little stops would be the HIGHLIGHT of other places! We might have hiked several miles somewhere else to see this waterfall…that we hurried by in our quest to get to Old Faithful before everybody else.

The Old Faithful area is pretty crazy. There were multi-lane exits off the road to get there, and huge amounts of parking. The geyser itself has seating for hundreds in front of it. We naturally arrived right after an eruption, so we took advantage of the indoor plumbing at the nearby lodge (and HOT water to wash my hands in, just crazy) and then headed out to explore the nearby Upper Geyser Basin. We caught a few interesting eruptions there—the Castle Geyser, one of the Lion geysers and the Anemone geyser for sure.

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After looking around a bit we headed back to Old Faithful as it was near the predicted eruption time. We didn’t have to wait long—there was a giant crowd at this point so we didn’t get terribly close. Maybe it was more impressive up close, but I don’t know.

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One thing we had to remind ourselves of repeatedly was that we needed to practice patience with the crowds and potential idiots that we would be surrounded by. One thing that made me almost lose it was seeing a couple of parents encouraging their toddler to feed a chipmunk cheerios. Aside from the fact that this is completely illegal…I mean really. First off, if you feed a wild animal then they might grow to depend on humans, who aren’t around year-round so said animal might starve in the winter. If you don’t care about THAT then maybe you’ll care that they might bite your kid’s finger (we were told by Brandon, our bike tour guide from earlier that finger bites were the number one reason for ER visits in Estes Park) and if that doesn’t mean anything, remember that they might be carrying the plague.

The other thing is just that there is a lot of traffic, both vehicular and pedestrian, and that can be frustrating. So practicing patience is important in order to keep the stress levels low and keep the fun levels high!

After Old Faithful the next stop was Midway Geyser Basin, home of the Grand Prismatic Spring.

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The Grand Prismatic Spring was giant and overwhelming and absolutely beautiful. The colors were unbelievable.

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This was a beautiful stop!

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Next we had a little picnic lunch and then drove through Firehole Drive. We saw a few more springs and geysers and enjoyed a slightly less crowded area than we had been seeing. It’s funny how quickly Yellowstone can go from busy and overcrowded to empty and quiet!

We skipped quite a few potentially interesting stops next, but we knew we couldn’t see it all. We decided to do a “quick” stop at the Artist’s Paint Pots because there was a little more walking involved and we wanted to get out of the car for a bit more. The paint pots were awesome and different enough from anything else we’d seen yet, so of course totally worth it.

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The last big stop I wanted us to do for the day was the Norris Geyser Basin. Wow, was the parking lot crowded. We got lucky and were able to squeeze into a tiny spot at the end that most of the bigger cars couldn’t fit into! Norris was amazing. It was truly the best actual representation of a post-apocalyptic world that I could imagine. And in fact, one day the Yellowstone Caldera will likely kill all life as we know it…

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Things that I did not do at Norris: use the toilet. I went in, and I walked back out. It was one of the most disgusting bathrooms I’ve ever been in and I figured I could wait…forever.

Louie and I were desperate to see wildlife by this point. Where were all the bison?? We soon found out. We were driving away from Norris and heading back on the loop towards Bridge Bay and noticed someone coming towards us flashing their headlights. Naturally we thought they meant a cop, but suddenly we saw a single male bison walking along the road. That’s what they meant! We were panicking with excitement, and I managed to take a picture out the window right up close to it! After we went by we were just so thrilled. Such magnificent creatures, but so funny looking really, with huge heads, and somewhat skinny looking legs, and just walking along the road with no cares.

Then we got close to Hayden Valley…and we saw more bison. So many more! At first it was a little group, and then it was perhaps 100’s. We realized if we had just turned left out of our campground in the morning rather than right we would have seen so many bison first thing!

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Quickly we got the hang of the “pull off the side of the road” for wildlife move. Louie and I had a lot of fun looking at and photographing bison, and then we found a huge group of cars and it turned out there was a bear, way far away though. We spent quite a lot of time trying to see it though, but didn’t have too much luck. Then we ran into an area where people were trying to look for wolves, which seemed scary, but also those people were intense, with high-tech looking scopes and whatnot. Louie made a snap decision then to pull into the Mud Volcano area, and that’s where a couple of bison were walking across the parking lot! Just when we’d think that we were over the bison we’d get all tickled by them again—I think they are fantastic! We saw that about 5 of them had headed up into the thermal features area of Mud Volcano, so we parked and went up the boardwalks to check them out.

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We were careful to keep our distance, but it was neat to see them a little closer and doing something more interesting than simply eating grass! They were snorting, and two of them were butting horns a bit.

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We decided, after awhile, to head around the other side of Mud Volcano to see the springs and stuff, and that’s when we saw another group of bison, with a young one too, come galloping across the boardwalk and roll around in the mud, leap around the various hot springs, and then run further away. They were moving so fast, and seemed to be really having a good time! I was pretty frightened while at the same time being really excited. Louie wanted to follow them and get closer and I was a little scared especially since I’d seen how fast they could move! We could hear them, snorting and making all kinds of noise, but they were a bit out of sight.

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We finally decided to head back around and down towards the car. We saw a park ranger and asked her about the bison, and we learned that it was mating season, which explains the head-butting, and she also said that the bison DO walk on the boardwalk sometimes (Louie was thinking maybe they didn’t, kind of like how roads will have those bars in them so the cows don’t cross) and that they break them a lot and especially over the winter. Good to know!

We finally headed back to the car after all the excitement. Seriously, it was the best day of the vacation! Louie and I couldn’t get over what an amazing day we had had…we made it back to our campsite around dark, and quickly made dinner and a fire to relax by.

(And since I have been having trouble finding the time to finish these posts…I’m going to publish this day alone and then finish up Yellowstone in a later post. Enjoy!!!)

There really is no place like Wyoming (Road Trip Part 4)

Part 1: There and Back Again

Part 2: Bouldering in Boulder

Part 3: Camping isn’t so bad

Day 9: We were sad to leave RMNP. On our way out of town we wanted to stop by a donut shop that had been highly recommended, called the Donut Haus. We waited in a long but fast moving line and ordered. I was totally unimpressed…I got a nutty cinnamon thing that tasted a bit stale 🙁 I guess St Louis may not have the natural scenery, but it has better donut shops! Seriously, people had been raving about this place…maybe I ordered poorly but I hate when baked goods look far better than they taste. ANYWAY. Louie’s fritter was a bit better but I’m still annoyed that mine wasn’t as good as I imagined it would be.

Our plan for the day was to drive to Grand Teton National Park. That’s it. It was around a 8 1/2 to 9 hour drive and we wanted to enjoy the drive too.

Let me just tell you. Wyoming is perhaps the most beautiful state on earth. I thought Colorado was great, but from the moment we entered Wyoming until the moment we left we were surrounded by the most beautiful natural scenery I have ever experienced in my life. Some parts of the state are very desolate and sparsely populated, so it might not be the place I want to LIVE but wow, just miles upon miles of unique and beautiful mountain ranges. All day long our jaws were dropping, and we hadn’t even gotten to the Tetons. We took a few scenic byways to get off the highway, which I’m sure added to the beauty of the drive.

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And then…after hours of driving, and wondering, hmm, are we seeing the Tetons, we did, and they were unmistakable, towering above the horizon. We had a reservation for a tent cabin at Colter Bay (in Grand Teton National Park) for two nights. What they call a tent cabin is a cabin of sorts with two canvas walls and lightly padded bunks. (We stayed in the tent cabin because regular campgrounds here were first-come, first-served, and I was worried they would be full by the time we arrived.)

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We drove to Colter Bay from the entrance of the park and gasped at the beauty of the Tetons. We checked into our cabin and then headed out to explore the Bay.

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None of my pictures of the Tetons really show their scope. They were overwhelmingly large and just incredibly beautiful.

We took a short hike/walk around the Colter Bay area, trying to get a better picture. We saw a bald eagle dive towards the water to catch a fish, and what might have been a beaver or maybe a muskrat swimming along the shoreline.

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After the sun set a bit further, we decided it was time to go shower and make dinner. SHOWER. For $4.25 you could get a shower as long as you wanted with hot water and everything. Since I hadn’t showered since Boulder it was definitely money well spent. And then we made dinner outside of our tent cabin. It was much like camping since we had to walk to the bathrooms and we had a picnic table AND our own bear box, but inside the tent cabin there was a wood burning stove, so Louie made a lovely fire to warm us up. We had rice and beans and canned veggies I believe and then went to bed.

Day 10:

Really we had one full day in the Tetons and we wanted to make the most of it. We decided to do what was called the “signature hike” in the Tetons—Jenny Lake to Cascade Canyon. We woke up around 6 am hit the road for Jenny Lake, which was about 20 to 25 minutes away. These parks are so big! There weren’t shuttles like in RMNP and I’d read that the parking lots could get completely full by mid-morning. Since we were so early naturally we had no trouble, and we got on the ferry to Jenny Lake around 8 am. I did have a minor breakdown involving a vault toilet and a stuck giant roll of toilet paper, but I managed to persevere without too many tears.

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A brochure said that the ferry across Jenny Lake cost a “modest fee” and I’d forgotten in the meantime what that would be. It was $15 round trip for each of us, which in my opinion is hardly a “modest fee” and is actually a “giant rip-off” but the ride saved us about 5 miles so we had to pay it or waste two hours of the day wandering through the forest rather than hiking in a more awesome place.

On the ferry ride over I was sitting next to a fellow who was with a group of people preparing to rock climb on Mount Moran the next day. That didn’t sound the least bit fun to me!

Once we got off the ferry it was straight uphill for us. Our first stop was Inspiration Point, and within minutes we were both shedding our outer layers and getting down to short sleeves. It’s amazing how cold it could be overnight and in the morning and then hot during the day.

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After the initial steep uphill to get to Inspiration Point, the trail leveled out quite a bit as it went the several miles to the Forks of the Cascade Canyon. We were enjoying quite a bit of shade and some lovely views.

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We did see some bear scat along the trail, and though it didn’t look particularly fresh we kept our bear spray handy and tried to keep up conversation as to not sneak up on any bears!

We’d kept up a decent pace on this portion of the hike and when we sat down for a small lunch at the Forks of Cascade Canyon, we decided to continue on to Lake Solitude. Partly because we felt great, and partly because another couple of hikers had been encouraging us—we joked that nothing gives you inspiration like when complete strangers tell you that you can do it! Going to Lake Solitude would make our trek over 15 miles but we thought it should be possible with our timeline, and the reviews said that each step past the Forks was more beautiful than the last. Spoiler alert: this was true!

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The trail was pretty busy overall even for such a long and intense hike. We passed very few people, but quite a few passed us! When we finally arrived at Lake Solitude..it was filled with people, including at least one person who had done the hike with a toddler on his back the whole way.

But it was beautiful, and even though the last bit of the hike was a real challenge for me due to the incline and the sun, I was so glad we’d continued.

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After relaxing and resting a bit at the lake, it was time to head back. Our return trip took even longer, I think, but mostly because we saw so much wildlife! We were constantly on the lookout for bears, because of the scat and also because we’d heard that a ranger had seen a mother and cub earlier in the day. We didn’t see any bears, but we saw marmots, several pika, lots of chipmunks or ground squirrels, and then…a family of moose. A male, female, and a young one. We watched them eating and playing in the water near the trail for a very long time!

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I didn’t get a good picture of them, but here’s the male moose.

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And a marmot.

We finally made it back down the trail to catch the ferry back. We had about 30 minutes to spare—the ferry stopped running at 7 pm and I believe we boarded around 6:30. What a day!

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Ferry selfie.

After that day of hiking, we didn’t feel like cooking, so we decided to check out a place called Dornan’s. Louie’s stepdad told us that back in the day when he had visited it was a neat little cafe down by the river where you could get really good pancakes. Well…when we got near the place the road was packed with cars pulled over on the side and loads of people walking. We didn’t realize how packed it would be, and we also didn’t realize there were a variety of restaurants, a grocery store, a gas station, and more. We found a parking spot with only a little trouble, and then had to decide where to eat—at this point we were pretty tired and overwhelmed but I thought we were too far away to try anything else. We considered the chuckwagon but were a little nervous about that so we ended up at the Pizza place. Rather than having to wait in line to order, since we were both over 21 we were allowed to sit at the bar and order there, so we got some beers, tons of water (I was really dehydrated…I never seem to drink quite enough while hiking) and got a pizza and a salad. It all really hit the spot!

We had a little bit of a drive back to Colter Bay then—I think nearly 45 minutes! The good news was that then we could sleep. The bad news was that we had to get up at 4:45 am in order to drive back south to Jackson in order to go whitewater rafting on the Snake River! Louie made a fire in the tent cabin again so that we were pretty warm going to sleep.

Day 11:

The alarm went off around 4:45 am and we got coffee going. We had to pack up and leave, and we decided since we had an hour drive to wait a bit to make breakfast. We drank coffee and loaded up. I should say—that morning I was annoyed that people had stacked trash next to the trash bins, which is a huge no-no because of bears. We worked so hard in these campgrounds not to leave anything out, and then we’d run into things other people did who obviously just didn’t care or at least, didn’t think. Luckily these incidents were few and far between and most people had a good respect for the rules.

I’d signed us up at Dave Hansen Whitewater for a scenic float trip and whitewater trip. We’d start with 8 miles just floating down the river enjoying the scenery and then 8 miles of white water rafting in an 8 man boat. It was quite cold in the morning and we got wet suits to wear.

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Obviously wetsuits are a great look for everybody. We took a bus to the river and then met our guide, Lily. Louie and I had the raft to ourselves for the first segment of the trip, which was really neat. Lily rowed and we just relaxed and looked for wildlife. We saw a bunch of bald eagles, juvenile and fully mature, other birds, ducks, river otters, a beaver, some deer, and more. It was a really neat way to spend the morning, and we also enjoyed chatting with Lily and learning about how she had ended up living in Jackson and being a whitewater guide.

Next we loaded up the raft for the hard part. I was a little nervous about the rapids, but it ended up being pretty straightforward. We did get soaked, but they weren’t too bad and it was a nice introduction to whitewater rafting. Lily was a great guide and we always knew what to do. Louie sat in the front as one of the leaders and did a good job setting the pace—I sat right behind him and let him try to block the water from me. Overall the trip was a blast and I would totally recommend it!

Afterwards we wandered around Jackson for a bit, and then drove up to Teton Village to look around.

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There was a tram there that was highly recommended but once we saw the ticket price (nearly $40 a person) we just couldn’t bring ourselves to do it. We’d been gouged enough in this area, so we decided instead to just head off to Yellowstone, with some stops along the way. Yellowstone is north of Grand Teton NP so that meant we would have one last drive through the Tetons.

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We saw there was a road up to the top of Signal Mountain and so we did that. It didn’t take too long and the views were really beautiful.

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I’m sad looking at these pictures though—as wonderful as Yellowstone was, the Tetons were just amazingly beautiful, and I wish I still had that view all around me. We were sorry to leave, and took a million pictures on our way north.

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Next: Yellowstone National Park!