2012/06/09 - Saturday - Dallas to Jackson, Wyoming
We took the Park N Fly shuttle to DFW and flew the first leg to Denver, no issues. Opted for covered parking which turns out to be a very good thing.
In Denver, we met up with Trina, Doug and Manasi for the United flight from Denver to Jackson, WY. Played some Scrabble in the airport waiting for the flight. Doug & Manasi had used a voucher from a trip to Spain that was cancelled and found they were on standby. The flight was full and the airline offered $300 to anyone willing to take the next flight since they were overbooked. Someone must have taken them up on it since D&M luckily made it onto our flight.
Hit some turbulence as we neared Jackson and discovered that while Anne needs to talk through the panic, Stewart requires silence. So not a great landing but we made it.
Arrived at Jackson about 2:30pm. Rented a Chevy Traverse which held all six of us (including Trese who arrived later) quite comfortably. I'm rethinking my attitude toward Chevy now, although the gas mileage was only about 16-18 mpg.
The Webbs checked into the Motel 6 while Stewart & Anne headed to the Wyoming Inn, a nice western style mountain lodge we chose for the option to have a coffee maker in the room. The room was beautiful with large arched windows viewing the green mountains, two big Morris chairs and a king bed. Unfortunately, it was too close to the elevator so we switched. The new room was just the same, but we forgot to take the coffee maker with us. Evidently, coffee in the room is a special luxury in those parts.
The Webbs hit the hills and got some altitude acclimation under their belts while Anne & Stewart grabbed a nap. Trese arrived around 3pm and we all went into Jackson to check out the town square. It was snowing! Lightly, but snowing. The elk antler arches were everywhere and kind of amazing since they were made from horns just found lying around. Freaky.
We didn't have much luck finding a restaurant with entrees under $20 so we ended up eating a Quiznos. Anne's cold was 4 days old and she thought it was clearing up since she wasn't blowing her nose much but it dropped into her throat and chest and she was losing her voice. So Stewart & Anne picked up two bottles of medicine (red and white wine) and went back to their room. Pandora provided a great Lorraine Feather channel with such awesome tunes as "Where Are My Keys?" and "I'm so Impressed with My Attorney, Bernie". Good times.
Met the group at Bubba's for a hearty breakfast at 8am. Humongous biscuits, great friendly staff and reasonable prices. Perfect!
The drive to the Tetons was beautiful although the snow was coming and going and sometimes turning to sleet and rain. Trese pointed out the "God Fingers" where the sun's rays poked through the clouds and touched the earth. These mountains were high enough to be dark and snowcapped and were stunning against the evolving sky scape.
Our first stop was the Jenny Lake Visitor Center where Doug rode the stuffed moose and Trese shot the lake. We took a short boat ride out to the Cascade Canyon trail area and began our hike. Luckily they provided free hiking sticks at the bottom so Trese took them up on one. The trail was unpaved, rutted, steep and full of tree roots and absolutely gorgeous as it followed an offshoot of the Snake River, rolling under several bridges, and climbed to the Hidden Falls. White water was everywhere. The sound was awe inspiring.
Temperatures were in the 40s but we had all layered up and brought plenty of food, water, chapstick, Advil and nasal spray so we were good for the day. Catching our breath at the Hidden Falls, we continued up the path a steep half mile to Inspiration Point, a sweeping overlook that took in miles of lodgepole pines in the mountains and a misty view of Jenny Lake.
We had decided to take the boat out but hike back since it was just a "2 mile" hike (euphemism for any distance between you and your destination based on everyone we asked no matter where we were). We were overcome by pee brain since we had kept well hydrated and the 2 miles really stretched on. Manasi and Stewart ran on ahead and we lost them but knew we were on the right track when we saw the banana peel on a boulder at an intersection. Doh! Stewart had left it to mark the path, ignoring the park warnings that food attracts bears, that leaving it on the trail drew them to all of the hikers, and Trina had to put it in her baggie to dispose of later so she was particularly at risk. Luckily there were lots of us and no bears.
Once we all had our restroom break, we decided to try for a late lunch at the Jackson Lake Lodge. It was about 3:30 when we got there but only the bar was serving then. So we opted to eat some energy bars and take the drive up Signal Mountain. It was a steep drive though the lodgepole pines but we got our first deer sighting, a young buck. The clouds had piled up and were intermittently spitting sleet but we made it to the top and got a few quick shots of the 40 mile vista view of the Tetons and, there nestled deep in the valley, was Penis and Two Balls Lake. Not sure if that was someone's joke or an unfortunate glacier mishap but it was kinda funny.
On the way back to the lodge for dinner, we came upon a traffic backup which we quickly came to learn signalled a wildlife sighting. Sure enough, we grabbed the binoculars and camera and joined others on the shoulder to find, holy crap! A mama grizzly and three young cubs. But even the young uns were huge, 2 smaller than the 3rd. Some of the crowd said the mama was "610" and she had taken the 3rd cub away from another grizzly. We backed off as they munched their way over the rolling hills toward us. Amazing.
Back at the lodge, we were seated in a room with heavy wooden tables overlooking the lake. The food was pretty good although Anne had to swap out the hummus option for a tuna sandwich since it had way too much cumen. Manasi's nacho mountain was pretty good too.
After dinner, Stewart was tired from having driven all day so he went back to the room to decompress while the rest of us took over the Wyoming Inn lobby, settling into the overstuffed leather chairs, pouring some plastic cups of red wine and enjoying a friendly game of 10,000. Not sure why everyone didn't use Anne's strategy of 400 points is enough. Hmmm, maybe it's because she lost badly.
Today was the transition day from the Tetons to Yellowstone but since the sun came out, we decided to do as much more of the Tetons as we could before heading out. Trese had a separate rental car so Trina, Doug, and Manasi joined her while Stewart and I took the Traverse. Not sure what they did all day but we headed back to Jenny Lake and got some great shots with the azure sky framing the trees and reflecting them into the water. Next, we went back to Signal Mountain and got much better views of the long vista. There were several cyclists making the climb today and we stopped to chat with some at the top. It had to be over 10% grade on much of that climb.
Then on the Colter Bay where we reconnected and started out the gravel trail around the lake. Trina and Manasi turned back after a bit but Doug, Trese, Stewart and Anne carried on across the dirt and stone bridge to the far side of the lake and around. After 45 minutes or so, we became concerned that the trail was much farther than we were led to believe since we couldn't see the whole lake and the far shore was quite a distance. So we turned back only to find out later there was actually a cutover point we could have taken. But it was a beautiful day and the trail was fairly level, the scenery again stunning and the company fun.
Another late lunch day, this time at the cafeteria at the Colter Bay Visitor Center. They were playing operatic music and the staff were all different nationalities. Doug decided he must soon visit Muldova. Trese figured out they must be playing that music so no one would stay too long. But the food was good and the view of the lake, once again, stunning.
Finally we said our goodbyes to the Tetons and headed up the road to Yellowstone. We hadn't made it out of the park yet when another traffic backup held us up. This time we stayed in our car until some young girls went running by. I rolled down my window to ask them what was up and they said "Buffalo are all over the road!" "How many?" "Hundreds!!" That did it. Anne grabbed the iPad and jumped out of the car. Several cars up they appeared and yes, they were right in the road, swarming the cars and heading toward us. She jumped back into the car quickly and started filming. As Stewart said on film, "Freakin' amazing!" Mamas and babies, and huge papas, all gnarly and bedraggled losing their winter coats. Stewart rolled down the window and we could hear their deep throated snuffling as they moseyed along. Two cyclists made the right decision to turn around as they approached, and tried to find a path that didn't include too much bison dung. What a rush!
After at least an hour, the last of the heard shuffled by and we made our way north, through the National Elk Preserve and on into Yellowstone National Park. We crossed the Continental Divide three times, over 8,000 feet at each point and the landscape evolved as you could see where wildfires had restarted the tree growth 20 years before. We passed many landmarks and milestones knowing we were returning the next day and needed to get checked in. There was no cell service and we wanted to be sure we didn't lose our room. The other car stopped at Old Faithful but with no communication we just went on to West Yellowstone, MT where we checked into the Brandin' Iron Inn, a nice rustic place with everything you need and not much more. It even had a hospitality room we thought we'd use for more games of 10,000 but our days filled up very quickly and we were never back in time for that.
On our own waiting for the others to show up, we circled the town and found a few options for dinner. They arrived about 8pm and we hit a barbecue joint that was pretty crowded but luckily had room for us. The ribs were tasty and they had options of sauce spicy-ness although none were too hot. Once we had our fill, it was off to bedtime for us.
This day was all about hitting every attraction on the route we had bypassed on the way in. Starting at the north end just south of Madison, we stopped at Firehole Falls, taking Firehole Canyon Drive, Fountain Flat Drive, and Firehole Lake Drive. We saw Lower Geyser Basin (Fountain Paint Pot), and Midway Geyser Basin (Grand Prismatic Spring) then opted to head on to Old Faithful to catch lunch there. We arrived about 1/2 hour before the next eruption so we grabbed some seats on the benches around the geyser and oohed and aahhed along with the crowed as it exploded predictably. All of these sites are amazing beyond words, as the colors are so vibrant especially the turquoise and cerrilian blues and the brilliant yellows and oranges. The mud pots and fumeroles really required videos more than photos as the steam often occluded the colors and bubbling mud sauce. We were so lucky to have a beautiful sunny day as it really enhanced the images. Hiking along an active volcano is truly an awe inspiring trip.
We ate lunch at the Old Faithful Visitor Center, this time with a view of the geyser and surrounding woods of what? Lodgepole pine, of course! This time we were treated to soft rock, a much more relaxing environment. The cafeteria food was actually quite good.
On the way back, we visited the Black Sand Basin and Biscuit Basin sites that we had missed to get to Old Faithful sooner. Again, the hissing steaming psychedelic sites were gorgeous and intriguing. We spent so much time at these sites, enjoying the perfect day, that the time just slipped away. So once we realized how far we were from West Yellowstone, and not being able to predict bison stampedes, Stewart had the great idea that we head back to the Old Faithful Inn for dinner. It is a massive heavy wood structure apparently built in one winter, several stories high but some blocked off due to earthquake damage many years ago. Despite large crowds that pushed off the next available seating until 8:30, Manasi got us into a 5pm seating and we ate right away. Sweet! Anne had a gift card from work and treated everyone. The quail, elk and Osso Buco were very good and the price was amazingly low, especially since Stewart & Trina shared a meal as did Doug & Manasi. So we all shared a chocolate explosion dessert. Two forkfuls were plenty and it was delicious!
Then it was out to the 2nd floor deck to enjoy a "Mud Pot" (kahlua, rum and milk) and whatever single malt scotch Doug was having, along with a second viewing of Old Faithful's eruption. We had a great plan to take a picture of everyone with Old Faithful behind us but the rest of the crowd didn't cooperate so Trese, Anne and Manasi found seats near the railing while Stewart filmed. OF did not disappoint.
As it was a fairly late evening (for us anyway), by the time we got back to West Yellowstone, we were ready to turn in.
This being our last day of sight seeing, we had to choose between Mammoth Hot Springs, Yellowstone Lake and the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone. The Grand Canyon won out so Anne drove to Canyon Village where we made a brief stop at the Visitor Center and picked up another SD card at the nearby grocery. Trina found some cool picture books for Everett (or maybe Russell since his birthday was near). Then we drove to the trailhead on the south rim and hiked out to the Upper Falls viewpoint. Quite a powerful falls, dropping into a beautiful river carved through the rocks. We continued on to Uncle Tom's point where a trail dropped into the canyon but since it was marked very dangerous, we opted to stay on the rim. There were many gorgeous overlooks and we took advantage of as many as possible. Trese and Trina decided to hang out at the end of the trail while Stewart, Doug, Manasi and Anne hiked back to the car and came to pick them up. Then we drove back to the Canyon Lodge for lunch, another cafeteria where a server from McKinney let Stewart overload his noodles since he had on his Texas State shirt. Again a good meal with views of the pines.
After lunch we drove to the North Rim, this time opting to drive to the lookout points and take a few shots with shorter hikes just to and from the car. The weather was clouding up and eventually turned rainy just as we got to Grand View. Anne pulled out her plastic poncho while Doug donned his full scale rain poncho and we took in some more of the sites. Before long the rain stopped and we pulled off our silly jackets. The weather put a damper on things but it was time to turn back. The Webbs had to leave at o'dark thirty since they had a 7am flight out of Jackson. And Trese had lost her wallet and was really worried about how she was going to find it.
Back in West Yellowstone, Trese found her wallet (yay!!!!) and we decided to try the Brewpub across from the Brandin' Iron for dinner. It was great! Casey, our server, let us try samples and we all had different beers from ales to lagers, amber to deep dark wheats. The pizza was very good too. Trese, Trina and Anne shared one 12 inch pizza and two pieces were plenty so Trese even got to take some for lunch the next day.
Then Casey offered up some travel advice. She had lived there all her life and said to allow 5 hours drive time if you go through the park, even if it's 3am. Around the park, 3 hours would do you fine even though the distance was about the same. In the park the speed limit is 45 and sometimes 35, and you can never predict what the animals will do. We can sure attest to that. So that was it. We all decided to take the outer route and it worked out perfectly.
The Webbs were up and out by the time we woke, so we met Trese for breakfast at 7:30. She wasn't leaving until Saturday so we said our goodbyes and hit the road for Jackson. The outer route took us through Idaho and the rolling vibrant green fields were beautiful as it was another sunny day. The Teton Pass was tricky with many 10% grades, first up and then down. Anne drove and it seemed a bit trecherous at points and we wondered if that smell was our clutch or someone else's but we made it into Jackson no problem. We stopped in at our favorite Albertson's and had a Starbucks and Italian wrap for lunch, then went on to the airport. We caught some news that there had been a major hailstorm in the Dallas area the day before but only one of our Facebook friends mentioned it and he was in Richardson.
But sure enough, when we landed and went to pick up our car at the Park N Fly, we were already in the car before we noticed the carport was pockmarked all over with baseball size holes. The car was undamaged so we were really glad to have chosen the covered parking!
Home again, there was no evidence of any hail damage anywhere and the cats were silky smooth and content after another of Miss Nancy's weeklong visits.
Glad to be home, but we definitely want to return and do some cycling along those awesome bike paths around Jackson and take in Mammoth Hot Springs and Lake Yellowstone.