Yellowstone- America’s (First) Best Idea

The National Parks are nicknamed “America’s Best Idea” and I tend to agree. We were so lucky to visit Yellowstone again this year, as America celebrates the National Parks’ centennial. If you haven’t made the trek out to Wyoming to see it, find a way! The magic of Yellowstone never gets old!

We entered through the South entrance and the place was crawling with visitors, as it usually is in the summer. We didn’t stop to visit any of the thermal features this trip, as our furry companion is not allowed outside of the parking lots. We met up with my sister, Beth, and her boyfriend for dinner and drinks. They are working in the park for a second season this year. We stealthily crept back into our van once it got dark to sleep in the employee parking lot. Every single camp site was claimed that night and “boondocking” is prohibited anywhere in the park. Apparently, rangers are known to knock on car windows and issue tickets for violating this rule!

We set a 5:30 wake up call and get down to the Hayden Valley for some wildlife watching. Clint brewed some coffee on the hood of the van while we waited. It was a chilly 31 degrees! We were able to spot elk, lots of bison, two black bears and a coyote. All in all, a successful trip!

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A lone coyote out and about 

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Scout keeping an eye out for wildlife!

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Two black bears ambling around a meadow (the 2nd one is further back)

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Early morning bison watching

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Lamar Valley 

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Shadow Mountain- Teton Wilderness Dream

After a few days of driving and a night at the (free) Lander City Park, we were ready to make our way into the woods. Our first destination was Grand Teton National Park, specifically Shadow Mountain in the Teton National Forest area.

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Before making camp for the night, we drove up to Jenny Lake for a walk around the shore. The water was gorgeously clear and I only wish that we had trained Scout to ride along in a canoe! She did make a nice splash into the lake, though. I wan’t able to stand the freezing waters for more than a minute or so!

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This area is a road that meanders through the National Forest and up to the top of Shadow Mountain, overlooking the Antelope Flats and the whole Teton range. Every turn offered up some killer views of the mountains! The dispersed sites are FREE for campers. We staked out a site about halfway up and waited for sunset. The road was dirt and gravel, with steep grades and sharp turns. We saw several truck and camper rigs, but I couldn’t imagine towing anything up there! Our van did just fine, albeit a bit on the bumpy side. For the exact coordinates and directions to our “boondocking” site, click over to Campendium. 

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Next up- Yellowstone! Our third time there in as many years and it never gets old.

Yellowstone – The Motherpark

Yellowstone was the last big park on our trek, and we definitely saved the best for last.The world’s first National Park just doesn’t disappoint! I have traveled to Yellowstone several times before, but I can honestly say that I was truly able to appreciate the beauty and majesty of the park this time around. I guess that age really does give you some scope to the wonders of life. Clint, a self proclaimed science and geology nerd, was like a kid at Disneyland. Geysers, pools, mountains, canyons, and wild animals around every corner – what’s not to love?

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We found a campground outside of the park (and paid a whopping $58/night for a tent site – seriously, KOA?) and stayed for two nights. I’ll be the first to tell you that this is probably not enough time to really delve into the park, but we made it work. We were there exploring until sunset, which actually meant less crowds and better photos at some of the geyser basins.

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The park is in an ancient, dormant caldera, which admittedly gives me the heebie geebies. Maybe I’ve watched too many Discovery Channel specials about “What Happens When Yellowstone Blows!?” My natural aversion to grizzly bears can also add to the wonderful, nerve inducing travel anxiety in Yellowstone. I love it.

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The vibrant colors and pungent smells of the pools were more impressive than the “big attraction” geysers like Old Faithful. Who knew that bacteria could be so pretty? We kept wondering if the animals who live in the park ever fall to their death in a boiling geyser. There are enough signs EVERYWHERE warning tourists not to get to close. Boiled bison, anyone?

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The grand finale of our trip was perfect and left us longing for more travel. Once you see Yellowstone, however, most other destinations are a bit of a letdown! Next up – my favorite post so far details our road trip by the numbers!