Neature Walks In National Parks: Yellowstone, Grand Teton, and Glacier

We weren’t particularly interested in seeing Mount Rushmore – or as Sarah refers to it “the faces” – but it was kind of on the way to Yellowstone so we figured we had to check it out. At the very least, snap a picture and leave – which is exactly what we did. To enter the parking lot of Mount Rushmore it’s $11 per person! I spent $8 on a carnival ride in Chicago but somehow couldn’t justify $11 to park. So…we turned around and parked on the shoulder of the road to snap a photo.

 


Lincoln is not having Roosevelt being all up in his face.
Lincoln is not having Roosevelt being all up in his face.

 

Tourism complete.

Staying in Yellowstone National park is pretty expensive so we opted for a motel in Cody, Wyoming. Staying in this particular motel made me realize that I have pretty low standards for where I choose to sleep. You could put me in a room that is inhabitable for most tourists standards and I would still say, “It was great! I only saw one cockroach!”

We checked into the room, turned the heat on, and didn’t hear anything kick on. We wait a bit longer and still nothing. Meanwhile, Sarah goes to wash something in the sink and the sink overflows. Since, we used up all the towels to clean up our miniature flood, Sarah went to get more towels. While she was there, she mentions the heat situation to the motel owners. The couple exchange words in Chinese and tell Sarah they forgot there was something they need to turn on.

We took showers while we waited for the heat. The tub wasn’t draining but water pressure and heat was amaze balls. After showering the heat still wasn’t on, but the room was a few degrees warmer from the steam at least.

We returned from dinner and the heat was still not on. I popped into the front office hoping they just forgot to turn the heat on. Turns out the heat in this particular room is broken and they knew, but just forgot when they gave it to us. The owners offered to change our room but at this point we’ve already scattered our stuff everywhere. Nah, we’ll stay and sleep without heat we told them. It was warmer than camping the other night and we had extra blankets in the car. At that moment I realized how low my standards for accommodations are.

Emma’s accommodation review of Sunrise Motel: yea, it’s pretty good. The heat didn’t work and the shower didn’t drain properly but the water pressure was AMAZING and they had wifi. Overall grade: A-

 

Yellowstone traffic jam
Yellowstone traffic jam

 

The next morning we made the drive into Yellowstone for the day. First note: so many bison. We had to stop for bison in the road as soon as we got there and this was a trend throughout the day. Yellowstone’s version of traffic I suppose. End result: Sarah gets a selfie with a bison.

 

Our first stop in the park, after driving an hour to the park and then an hour to the first geothermal attraction in the park, was Dragon’s Breath. This geothermal feature is aptly named. As the steaming, rotten-egg-smelling water splashed back onto the side of the cavern, it made a the sound (or what we mere humans assume the sound to be) of a dragon’s breath. Our bartender from the night before had suggested this stop. This is one of his favorites in the park. Side note: he also made us something called a breakfast shot the night before and I suggest you all go out and try one- it’s delicious. It’s a shot of half Jameson, half butterscotch schnapps followed by an orange juice chaser and tastes like pancakes with syrup. You’re welcome.

 

Dragon's Breath
Dragon’s Breath

 

Next we headed to Lower Yellowstone Falls, which flows into what’s called the “Grand Canyon of Yellowstone”. The falls attracts many professional photographers (or at least the intensity of their camera setups led me to believe so) and even an artist painting the falls. We stayed a while to take in the falls and the surrounding canyon, making sure to take plenty of pictures that never had a chance of doing it justice.

 

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As we’re about to head back to the parking area, I hear someone say, “They’re here, Victoria, they’re here!” We look towards the path to the parking area and busloads of Chinese tourist head our way, selfie sticks in hand – something you can never avoid at a tourist destination.

 

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We headed over to Upper Falls and tried to do a hike near there, but it’s closed at this time due to heightened bear activity – most of the trails are. It makes sense, the bears are coming out of hibernation and no one wants a surprise encounter with a grizzly. We didn’t leave ourselves much time for hiking with only two days in Yellowstone anyway.

Upper Falls
Upper Falls

The largest portion of our time in Yellowstone was just driving around the park. You have to, really. Yellowstone is absolutely massive. It spans over 3400 square miles. Naturally, you have to cover a lot of ground to get from one geothermal attraction to another. That being said, it’s a beautiful drive. You’re winding through mountains, passing by lakes, and making the occasional stop for a herd of bison to cross the street. It may take hours to get from one side of the park to the other, but it’s one of the most beautiful drives I’ve ever taken.

Microbial flat
Microbial flat

 

Some of our next stops were highlighted by the colors of the geothermal features. Many of the features we saw were covered by microbial mats and brought back strong memories of growing bacteria in petri dishes in microbiology. It was incredible to us how so many microorganisms can survive such seemingly inhospitable conditions and leave us with such a beautiful view.  Meanwhile, trees in the area are slowly dying, roasting from the root.

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One feature, the Artists’ Paint Pot, got it’s coloring from something different. This mud pot gets its red, yellow, and browns from the varying oxidation states of the iron in the mud. Science! Pretty neat stuff

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We ended our day with a hike up to Observation Point to watch Old Faithful go off. We accidentally timed it perfectly. It didn’t occur to us that Old Faithful doesn’t just go off all day- it only goes off every 60 to 110 minutes. The family ahead of us on the trail mentioned that the geyser was predicted to erupt at 5:30, in about a half hour. On the way up we stopped at another geyser. Solitary Geyser is a colorful fountain type geyser that goes off about every 4 minutes and on average 4 feet in height. It didn’t go that high for us, but the geyser itself was pretty. This geyser used to be classified as a hot spring until a resort was draining water from it to supply its pool, causing the water level to drop low enough to cause eruptions. The resort has since stopped draining water like an asshole.

 

Solitary Geyser. Formerly Solitary Hot Spring
Solitary Geyser. Formerly Solitary Hot Spring

 

Almost right on time, Old Faithful blows. From where we stood, 200 feet above the geyser, the eruption was quite impressive. The eruption must have been at least 100 feet high. It was hard to tell with all of the steam coming off the hot water. After about five minutes, the eruption was over. Exhausted from a day of sight seeing and a week long sleep deficit, we started our long drive out of the park and back to Cody.

 

Old Faithful from Observation Point
Old Faithful from Observation Point

 

The following day we really only had two goals. One, go to Grand Teton National Park, and two, see Mammoth Springs. The Tetons were beautiful. Again, we didn’t get to explore too much. We already spent a good chunk of our day driving to Jenny Lake. We were lucky enough to even do that considering the road to the park just opened that morning for the season. When we got to the lake, I made my way down to the water to get a better view. I was able to see a lot more from the base of the lake than from the upper view point. I walked along the rocks for a bit, got some great photos, and enjoyed a bit of seclusion – until I saw a snake in the water and freaked out. I guess that was my sign to turn around and head back to the car.

 

Grand Tetons from Jenny Lake
Grand Tetons from Jenny Lake

 

Grand Tetons and Mount Moran
Grand Tetons and Mount Moran

 

From Jenny Lake it was a four hour drive to get to Mammoth Hot Springs in the northern portion of Yellowstone. We needed to head that way anyway to exit the park and make our way towards Glacier National Park, but Mammoth Hot Springs was definitely worth checking out on the way. Mammoth Hot Springs is a large network of terraces created by calcium carbonate deposits, many varying in color from depending on the algae growing in that particular spot. After finishing up here, we made our way out of the park and into Montana, heading towards Glacier National Park.

 

Hot spring terraces caused by calcium carbonate deposits
Hot spring terraces caused by calcium carbonate deposits

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Glacier National Park is incredibly beautiful. We decided that Glacier is by far the most picturesque park we’ve seen. Upon arriving, we immediately stumbled upon Lake McDonald. When we walked down to the shore, Sarah exclaimed, “Damn nature! Back at it again!” (please refer to viral damn Daniel video). The water was almost perfectly still, and the surrounding mountains left a breathe taking reflection. Good on you, nature. Just killing it day after day with the beautiful views.

 

Lake McDonald
Lake McDonald

After Lake McDonald we took the Going-to-the-Sun Road as far as we could- which wasn’t far at all. Most of the road, which connects the West and East sides of the park, is closed for the season. We came in from the West side and were limited in what we could see and do. We opted to hike a trail to Avalanche Lake. It was a pretty mild hike with a great payout. A good portion of the trail follows a river, flowing in full force. I could sit next to the river and listen to that sound all day. We even stopped to record the sound of the river on the way back. At the end of the trail was a gorgeous, clear blue lake surrounded by mountains.

 

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After the hike, we tried to go horse back riding but it was also closed for season. Now that it’s on our minds, we’ve pledged to make horseback riding a part of our trip at some point. Limited with our options, we decided to drive around a bit and see how far we could go on the roads that were open.

After driving around a bit we went back to a trail head we were looking at earlier that goes around Lake McDonald. We really wanted to get one more hike in, but we got to the trail head and it warned of grizzlies on this particular trail and advised to carry bear spray. With only one other car parked at this trail head, we decided maybe it wasn’t the smartest idea. We opted to drink a beer by the lake instead. ¬†Hiking…beer…same thing, right?

 

It’s unfortunate that we couldn’t see more of the park with the main road being mostly closed. The good part about that is that it forced us to more intimately explore a smaller area. With Yellowstone and Grand Tetons, we had to do so much driving within the parks to get anywhere that we didn’t have time to hike around at all. Glacier National Park is very diverse in what it has to offer. We only were able to see a fraction of it, but what we did see we were able to appreciate more than Yellowstone or the Tetons. Out of all three parks, Glacier is the one I would like to go back to the most. There are seemingly endless trails, rivers, and lakes to explore. Plus, at the rate of global warming, it’s estimated that what’s left of the actual glaciers in the park will be completely gone by 2030. Better enjoy it while it lasts, folks.

Next Up: Visiting friends in far places: Kelowna, BC, Bellingham, WA, and Seattle, WA

 

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