The First National Park – Yellowstone and Grand Teton, WY

Geyser off the side of the road in Yellowstone

Geyser off the side of the road in Yellowstone

If you’ve been following along on the blog you might be a bit confused on our current whereabouts. I don’t blame you. While I’m still posting blogs about our time in the Old West, we are actually sitting in Chris’s parents’ living room in Orange County, California. Yes, our trip of nine months across the country has officially come to a close. In the meantime, I have many blogs to post about our adventure to catch up to current events… thanks for being so patient with me! One of our main destinations on this awesome adventure was Yellowstone National Park. Chris had been once with his friend Alonzo (0f Toronto Blog fame) on their whirlwind boys’ cross-country trip about twelve years ago. Needless to say I was extremely excited about seeing Yellowstone – the place Yogi Bear’s home, Jellystone, was modeled after, the first piece of land in the country that was deemed our first National Park. Anticipation was high for my first views of the park, even though I wasn’t exactly sure what to expect. I find sometimes not doing too much research on a place makes you open-minded and keeps any expectations down to a minimum. Not expecting anything except some of nature’s most beautiful creations, we all (the three vagabond travelers, the in-laws and the nephew) set out down the hill from Big Sky to the parks. We had a reservation for the Moho and a little cabin for the in-laws at Headwaters Lodge, situated just in between the south part of Yellowstone and the north entrance of Grand Teton National Park. Headwaters Lodge is a great place to go out to see both parks. It’s a pretty basic set-up. About fifty or so spots for RVs and tents, and a small lodge with hotel rooms and cabins – and a tasty restaurant in the lodge. We drove through Yellowstone the first day, on our way south to Headwaters. We stopped at the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone. That’s what they call it! It’s basically a huge canyon with a beautiful waterfall, and yellow stone walls. Hence the name Yellowstone, I figure. The park’s beauty is held in a combination of natural landscape and animals galore. That first day we’d see cars sort of pulled over on the side of the road (but still blocking the road, making it impassable) all staring at a herd of buffalo or a bull elk with huge horns eating or even a bear off in the distance. This is a major part of the wonder of Yellowstone. Wildlife is still very present all over the park, even with the constant hum of cars pulled over to stare and tourists with their giant cameras testing fate to see how close they can get.

Buff Buff Buffalo

Buff Buff Buffalo

Our second day we felt like finding some water to swim in. We drove through Grand Teton National Park, which as far as natural beauty goes, was breathtaking. I loved the huge mountains that pop out of the valley with no foothills to soften them. They were still covered in snow at the top, even though it was July. We stopped at String Lake on a whim and walked around. It was a Sunday so the place was packed because the lake was super warm (probably in the high 60s) and shallow and calm. There were canoes and paddleboards and “beachgoers” galore. There weren’t really beaches, but little dirt patches directly open to the water all along the path. It was obviously a popular spot because all of these beaches were full and we ended up all walking about a mile up to Leigh Lake to finally find a small empty spot. Zeph and I walked in as far as my shorts would allow, and Chris and Caleb went in to fish. The day was one of those perfect moment days. The kind you look back on with the fondest nostalgia. Granny hung out on the bench that happened to be on the path right next to us, and Papa took a nap in the shade. We chatted with some friendly locals floating around and enjoyed the mild sunshine and warm clear water. I don’t think that lake was deeper than five or six feet as far as we could see. It was an absolutely perfect day, minus the fact that none of us remembered to bring our swimsuits.

A boy and his fishing pole… Caleb taking a quiet moment at Leigh Lake

A boy and his fishing pole… Caleb taking a quiet moment at Leigh Lake

The next day Ron and Kathy watched Zeph and Caleb, so Chris and I could have the whole day to ourselves. We drove through Teton to Jackson, Wyoming. Jackson is a great little resort town. It’s pretty touristy, but not really in a cheesy way. It’s got a town square, and tons of good shopping and yummy places to eat. We got there, had a leisurely breakfast, walked around and saw the coolest knife store called New West KnifeWorks. There was a kitchen knife section, and a custom made section for the more pioneer-adventurer collections. Some of these knives were over $700 and were true works of art, made of Damascus Steel. I think it took Chris quite a bit of restraint not to come home with one of the beautiful knives. Of course we found an ice cream shop (don’t remember the name, it was on the corner across from the knife store, but the ice cream was good). We did a little shopping and wandering and killed some time in a most leisurely fashion, which was a luxury for us without a toddler to chase around. We did lots of other cool stuff in Yellowstone while we were there. Did Old Faithful one day, which was good to be able to say we saw it but if I ever go back I don’t need to see it again. There are plenty of other more interesting, more mysterious geysers and hot springs and poofs of steamy air that pop out of nowhere all through the park. On the way back (Old Faithful is in the west part of the park, our campground was south of the park, so it was a good drive… the park is over 2 million acres) we got stuck in stopped traffic for two hours. Literally stopped – as in, not moving, parked. A horse trailer had flipped a ways ahead of us (horse and driver were both fine) and it took awhile to clear the road.

The traffic in Yellowstone...

The traffic in Yellowstone…

That night was Ron and Kathy’s last night in town. They stayed at Lake Hotel, the old luxurious hotel on Yellowstone Lake which was only a mile or so from Fishing Bridge campground, the only campground in Yellowstone with full hook-ups that we’d moved to from Headwaters Lodge. In retrospect, Headwaters was a bit better location-wise, even though it wasn’t directly in the park, because it was right between Yellowstone and Grand Teton. In all honesty I enjoyed Teton more than Yellowstone. It was just more mellow, with more breathtakingly beautiful scenery. And Jackson was just south of Teton. Plus Fishing Bridge was just a parking lot of a campground, Headwaters had more space and felt more at one with nature. Both places did the trick though, and being at Fishing Bridge had its advantages… the walk to the store/ice cream shop was nice. The restaurant at Headwaters was far better than any food in Yellowstone though (including Lake Hotel). Just a little FYI for anyone who’s planning a trip in that direction! The in-laws flew home from Jackson airport on the 4th of July. While Zeph, Chris and Caleb (who would be traveling with us until we brought him home to BC) stayed at the Moho to have a Vin Diesel marathon, I happily volunteered to drive Ron and Kathy the two hours or so to the airport. Truth be told, I would rather drive through wonderful Wyoming scenery than be subjected to Vin Diesel movies all day. I dropped off Ron and Kath at the very small, very nice airport and headed into town to get some groceries. Jackson had a great natural foods store and I’d brought insulated shopping bags to get the food back to the Moho still cold. It was just a like a little Whole Foods and had everything I wanted. On the drive back to the campground I pulled over alongside Heart Lake and stuck my feet in. I wished we would have stopped here sooner, the water was warm and there were lots of little spots we could have hung out on and gone swimming from… next time! I got back to the campground just in time to catch the tail end of “Fast and Furious” (lucky me).

Our first glimpse of the Tetons over Jackson Lake

Our first glimpse of the Tetons over Jackson Lake

July 5th was Chris’s birthday and our departure from Yellowstone. We drove out of the north entrance to the park, making our way up to Glacier National Park in northwest Montana. We spent a couple nights at Yellowstone’s Edge RV Park in the Paradise Valley (it was a pretty sweet, simple park) and a night at the Great Falls KOA (which had an excellent little water park for kids and bluegrass/folk singers that performed every night). On the way to Great Falls we stopped and had breakfast in the town of Livingston, where Chris got his birthday present (a fly fishing rod), we ate a yummy meal at Gil’s Goods, and watched a train across the street with four freight cars of airplane bodies go by. Zeph was in heaven! I thought nothing would be more beautiful than Grand Teton National Park. Glacier would give it some fierce competition… more on that next time!

July 5th… on our way out of the park on Chris's birthday

July 5th… on our way out of the park on Chris’s birthday

Papa hiking the smart way

Papa hiking the smart way

Chris and his mama in front of a geyser in Yellowstone

Chris and his mama in front of a geyser in Yellowstone

Airplane on a train. Zephyr's mind = blown.

Airplane on a train. Zephyr’s mind = blown.

  • Ron

    What a great visit we had. It was great to see the trip again. Good job with pics and story .