Saturday, October 8, 2011

Great Western Adventure: Day 6

In case you missed it, so far I've recapped the first few days of our Great Western Adventure, including our visit to Chicago, the Corn Palace, the Badlands, Mount Rushmore, the Crazy Horse Memorial, and Devil's Tower.

Day 6: Yellowstone
The last I left off, we had arrived in Yellowstone very late and went straight to bed.  We didn’t get to sleep for very long though, because at 7:00 the next morning, we awoke to loud grunts outside our cabin.  Having experienced being woken up by a howler monkey in Guatemala (which sounds like a dinosaur eating a pig), I decided that it was best to just stay in bed and try to fall back asleep, but Nick got out of bed to check it out.  After peaking out the window, he told me I had to see what was going on, and I saw the culprits: bison were wandering through the parking lot just feet from our cabin.

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Nick went out and took a few pictures while I stayed in bed.  What a nice welcome to Yellowstone! 

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A little later we had our first breakfast at the Lake Lodge, which would come to be our standard breakfast for our stay: oatmeal with raisins, bacon, a biscuit, and an apple (and coffee for me).  The guide books say that you have to eat twice as much food than you normally would while hiking in Yellowstone because of the elevation.  This proved true for me because I had some issues with the elevation and ended up snacking on trail mix about every hour.

After breakfast we set out to the Old Faithful area to pick up a picnic lunch before arriving at our first hiking trail head. 

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The path ran next to the Grand Prismatic Spring and we were able to see the colors in the steam from a distance. 

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The first leg of the hike was pretty boring, but we did encounter this little guy with a fist full of grass.

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After a couple of miles, we ended up at Fairy Falls.

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It was pretty warm that day and the spray from the waterfall was super refreshing.  We had a nice sit to cool down and have a snack.  It was especially peaceful because there weren’t that many people around.

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Let me take a minute to discuss the gear that we acquired for this trip, most of which can be seen in the picture above.  The most important thing that we bought for the trip is our cameras.  We both got Canon Rebel T3i’s with Tamron 18-270mm lenses.  Although, I guess it could be argued that the most important thing that we got was bear spray, but thankfully we didn’t need to use it.  I also got a pair of polarizing sunglasses (a must for a trip to Yellowstone—it is quite sunny), a big floppy hat (it’s hanging around my neck in this shot), a hiking backpack with pockets for a water bottle on both sides, many Nalgenes (we each had two 24 oz. bottles and one 32 oz. bottle), and tons of sunscreen.  We use Aveeno Baby as recommended by Nick’s dermatologist.  It goes on pretty thick and you end up looking a little ghostly because of the natural ingredients, but it really does the trick.  I use Neutrogena Ultra Sheer Dry-Touch Sunblock on my face.  It’s expensive but not only does it work, but it is seriously not greasy.  We invested in sturdy hiking shoes a couple of years ago (whatever was on sale), and we hit up EMS during their sales for some of those nifty pants that you can turn into shorts by unziping the legs.  My shirt is a moisture wicking shirt that I won at our Frisbee finals because I am skilled enough to be able to throw a Frisbee at a target.  Hurray!  We have a bunch of these shirts from over the years and we wore them pretty much every day.  The nice thing about them is that we’re usually sweating in them anyway, so we didn’t have to worry about ruining them with tons of sunscreen and bug spray.

We then ventured back on the trail for another mile or so and ended up at the Imperial Geyser, which turned out to be our favorite geyser on the trip.  We knew we were getting close when we started to see orange lining the creek.

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And then we arrived at the Imperial Geyser.  Look at those colors!

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When we got back to the car, I sat down to have a snack and this guy almost stole my food from me!  He is a raven and is terrifyingly huge.

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We then headed next door to the Grand Prismatic Spring, where they have built a boardwalk from the parking lot and through the geyser area.  There are hilarious warning signs in the parking lot of each hot spring or geyser area. 

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To get to the boardwalk, you first cross a bridge, where you can see the hot spring water flowing into the river below.

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The boardwalk winds through an area where there are a bunch of beautiful hot springs.  Amazingly enough, we saw a kid who either jumped or fell into the hot spring area while we were there.  He was fine though—the part that he was in wasn’t that hot.

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The Grand Prismatic Spring is the largest hot spring in the US and the third largest hot spring in the world (the two biggest are in New Zealand).  This thing is huge and awesome.

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The sad thing is that you can’t get that good of a view of it from the boardwalk because of all of the steam.  Don't worry, a couple of days later, we climbed the hill that is in the background of the pictures, so stay tuned for a better view. 

It was very steamy and windy while we were there.  When the steam blows into you it’s almost suffocating and then when it blows away the air feels oddly cold even though it’s relatively warm out.  And some people lose their hats in the process.  Thankfully Nick and I both had hats with adjustable straps on them and we had them tight around our chins.

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We then headed back to the cabin, which was a good hour away.  The park is pretty large, spanning 3,468 square miles.  The road system through the park forms a figure 8, and a lot of the time it takes at least a half hour to drive between major points of interest along the road.

On our way back to our cabin, we encountered a bunch of cars parked on the side of the road.  This was when we learned that cars pulled over means that there is some type of wildlife that can be seen from the road.  We pulled over and watched a bull elk snack on some wild flowers in the woods.

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Some idiots got way too close to him, almost sneaking up on him so they could get a picture.  This is not recommended by the park system, which suggests that you stay 100 yards from elk and bears. 

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Thankfully no one got gored.  We were pretty tired after the hike, so we ended up getting dinner in the same cafeteria where we had breakfast.  This was a big mistake!  We both got turkey with mashed potatoes, stuffing and gravy, but it was almost inedible.  I was wise enough to pick up a chocolate pudding for dessert, which was delicious (probably because it was Jell-o pudding). 

Back at the cabin, we packed for our two-day camping trip in the Grand Tetons, which is just south of Yellowstone.  This is our tiny cabin covered in the mess that we made while packing.

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If you plan on taking a trip to Yellowstone, I would book your lodging at least a year in advance.  We started booking about at least 8 months in advance and were unable to get more than two consecutive nights in the same place.  This ended up working out for us because we got to see more of the park, but if you have kids with you, this might be annoying.  The cabins get booked especially quickly because they are so cheap.  This cabin was a mere $69/night! 

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The other places we stayed were a little more expensive, but all of the lodging was pretty reasonable.

The next morning we drove south to the Grand Tetons where we saw our first proper moutains.  Pictures to follow!


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