Saturday, December 16, 2017

A drive to Yellowstone

I've not yet learned to plan a vacation few months ahead. I usually have few targets in mind and pick one on the night before travel. Only in rare case, it might be a month ahead because I either need a visa to the destination or have to reserve a plane ticket or both.
So when I thought about Yellowstone and search the internet, I discovered that you would need to book your hotel room at least a year ahead if you wanna stay inside the park. There are plenty of hotels outside the park, but they too get sold out during summer. Fortunately, I got a hotel at West Yellowstone, just less than a mile from the west gate entrance. There are other options to stay south ( Jackson, Moran),  north, or even east. But West Yellowstone is the best for people driving from San Francisco.
The distance is about 1000 miles that you shouldn't drive in one day.  I decided to drive 600 on day one and stopped at Wells, NV for the night. Got up early the second day and headed for Twin Fall, Idaho. Highway 93 is very scenic. Our first stop was at Shoshone Fall, Twin Fall, Idaho. It's  an amazing waterfall on the Snake River. The park has an entree fee just $3.00. There are ample parking available inside the park . There is also a gift shop and the restroom is just behind it. We spent about 2 hours in the park before we headed for the West Yellowstone.

The amazing Shoshone Fall on Snake River, at Twin Fall, Idaho


From Twin Fall to West Yellowstone is about 4 hours drive. By 3 pm, we were at our hotel gate. We took about half hour to freshen up before we headed for Old Faithful Biscuit Basin. It's Geysers everywhere. They smell awful but looks spectacular.

The long boardwalk goes around all geysers. Be sure to stay on the boardwalk. There were incidence where people tripped while taking selfie. The result could be a badly burned body, if not death. So, stay on the boardwalk and enjoy the nature's wonder.
Sunburst in the Geyser

Some of the Geysers erupt at regular interval. So you need real patience to stick around one of those to see hot spring water erupting out of holes. The steam makes it foggy very often. Protect your camera lens and wipe off the water if you find few sprinkler drop on the glass. They have sulphur which would be difficult to remove once dried up.
A Geyser in Biscuit Basin
Hot Steam Erupting from a Geyser at Old Faithful

We were done with the Old Faithful Geysers by the end of Day 2. We had our dinner at 'Three Bears Restaurant'  at West Yellowstone. There are a lot of restaurant around, but I'm not talking about food here. However, most restaurant closes at 10 pm, pretty early compared to Bay Area.
If you want to see animals, get up early and stay late. Animal loves dawn and dusk more than bright sunny day. On day 3, we drove to the Canyon Village early morning. It's called 'Grand Canyon of Yellowstone', has two spectacular waterfall on the Yellowstone River.
The Lower Fall at Canyon Village


This is the Lower Fall. It's a bit of hike to go all the way near the fall. But it sure worth it. However, you get a wide view of the fall and the valley just from the vista point, 200' from the parking, only if you get to park there. It's a long queue to park near the view point. People usually park on Grand Loop road side. Be sure to park off the road, the park rangers could give you ticket  if you block the traffic.
Drive south from Canyon Village, and the whole animal kingdom will emerge as you hit the 'Hayden Valley'. There are Bison everywhere. If you are lucky, you would see wolves, bears, elk and moose too.  Unfortunately, we saw only Bison. The bulls started a fight over the small sand pit. All bulls want to take sand bath  and there were only one sand pit :)

The bulls were locked in horns over the sand pit
Further south of Hayden Valley, is the Fishing Bridge.  I don't know why they call it fishing bridge, I saw a board that stats 'no fishing on the bridge' !! You can see the Yellowstone Lake from the bridge. Down south, the Yellowstone lake starts. It's huge lake, and you would be driving around it till you hit West Thumb Geyser Basin.  Once again, it's a long boardwalk around many Geysers, some of them are inside the lake.  The moose below came to drink water. As the tourists crowded the boardwalk around  it, the moose panicked and jumped over the boardwalk before it vanished in the woods. I captured the whole movement from distance.
A moose flying over the boardwalk


From West Thumb, the Grand Loop  road turns towards Old Faithful which we already visited on our first day in the park. So we decided to take an 'U' turn and head towards Mammoth Hot Spring. It was a long drive through single lane narrow road. We took right at north-east junction to see Lamar Valley, where we saw more bison with calves, but no bears. Disappointed, we headed back to Mammoth, which is again full of Geysers. This one is probably biggest boardwalk in the Yellowstone. By the time we finished the walk, it was already dark. Then it was time to return to hotel for our last night.
Day 4, our last day in the park. We had half a day for Yellowstone & Grand Tetons. We drove straight to Hayden Valley to see some animals. Once again it was Bisons everywhere and lots of Geese in the river. This pair of Bison was crossing the road just in front of us. The shot is full framed, no cropped. They were that close :)
A pair of Bison exercising their right of way in Hayden Valley 
 The Grand Tetons would amaze you when you see it over the Jackson Lake. It was August 2nd week, but you could see snow on the mountains.  Further down south, is the Jackson Lake Dam. You could stop by to see gushing water being released to Jackson River from the Dam.
The picturesque Grand Tetons mountain range

Jackson Lake Dam
Our Vacation was virtually over once we were done in Jackson Lake Dam. We made some  mini stop to appreciate the beauty of the Grand Tetons while we drove south to Jackson Hole. It was  about 2 pm when we stopped at Jackson Hole for lunch. At this point, I was not sure where to stop for the night. We wanted to return via Salt Lake but it would be too early to stop for the night. I check in Expedia app, and found a hotel room at Wells, the same hotel where we stated 2 nights back. So I decided to stop at Wells for the night. But it was really tough to reach there that evening. We were caught in a storm and it was already dark by 6 pm. I never wanted to drive on freeway when it's dark, windy and pouring heavily. By the time I reached the hotel at Wells, it was 10 pm, tired like hell.

Day 5 was all driving back to home on I-80 west. We started lazy, stopped in every 2 hours, ate fast food and enjoyed the drive. We were back home by 6 pm, Yellowstone was now conquered once. I'm already looking forward for my 2nd trip. This time I would want to see bears, and so I would have to visit during early June, which is the best time to see bears with calves.

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