Wednesday, June 17, 2009


Part 1

Back home now, after a week "out west" to Yellowstone National Park. To me, anything west of Minnesota is out west.

There is something about the park and the area surrounding it that I fell in love with on my first visit in 2005. Not much had changed in four years It is, after all, an evolving ecosystem that has been going on for thousands of years, if not longer. Nothing that happens in 4 years will make enough of a change to be noticed. It is just a speck of time.

The only noticeable difference this visit from the last was the tree growth along the road from West Yellowstone to Madison, Norris, and beyond. Four years ago, you could see all the way to the river from the road, all the time. This year, just glimpses, so yes, a good change had occurred.

Heading west, through South Dakota and Wyoming, it is such a stark contrast from where I live. Hundreds of miles of grassland, cattle grazing, or mountains, with very few trees or towns in between. I'm sure this is mainly just the view from the highway, as driving through North Dakota a few years back wasn't nuch different, minus the mountains. But I do know these areas aren't that heavily populated, yet people do continue to migrate west, just as the initial settlers did a couple hundred years ago.

Of course we did the usual touristy stops: Corn Palace in Mitchell, SD; Wall Drug, in Wall, SD; Mt. Rushmore; Badlands, also both in SD. Last trip we also went to Devil's Tower in Wyoming. Oh, and did I mention it rained EVERY DAY of this trip? Particularly through South Dakota. Both ways, I doubt it didn't rain for more than an hour total. This trip, however, we changed our route so as to enter YNP from the east entrance. Last time I left from that entrance and missed all the glorious scenery on Hwy. 16 because of storms and darkness. This time, we would drive through the area in daylight. This is some road, let me tell you! You drive through high elevations, drop down thousands of feet, climb again, wind around, and finally end up in Ten Sleep, a small berg in the foothills of whatever mountain range it was.

Further on, you drive through cattle country again, past huge ranches with thousands of acres, so expansive no houses can be seen from the road. It makes me wonder about this lifestyle people would have to choose to live here, since winters have to be long, cold, and somewhat stark. Living miles and miles from the nearest town or neighbor, you have to rely on yourself totally. But I guess the wide open spaces, with mountain vistas outside your windows, is what draw people here. It would certainly draw me if I was in a position to choose to live here.

Miles before you even enter the park, we are stopped by 3 buffalo munching the grass near the side of the road. The kids are so excited to see them, and I personally have come to love the buffalo. They are such magnificent creatures, to be respected and feared at the same time. I can't help but think about the unnecessary slaughter by the white man trying to profit from these beautiful beasts, not even interested in settling the area. Like the gold hustlers too. Don't get me wrong. I have nothing against a person making a profit or killing for food, but killing just to make a profit was a horrible injustice to these creatures and the Indian who relied on them for practically everything. And the Indian is another story I'm not getting into here. So it makes me extremely happy to see these animals protected in the park.

We decided to do the Yellowstone Lake/Norris Basin loops first that day. Yellowstone Lake is is the largest body of water in Yellowstone National Park, The lake is 7,732 feet (2,376 m) above sea level and covers 136 square miles with 110 miles of shoreline. While the average depth of the lake is 139 feet (42 m) its deepest spot is at least 390 feet (118 m). Yellowstone Lake is the largest freshwater lake above 7,000 feet (2,133 m) in North America. In winter, ice nearly 3 feet (1 m) thick covers much of the lake, except where shallow water covers hot springs. The lake freezes over by early December and can remain frozen until late May or early June. When I was there last in early May, it was still half frozen. This trip, only a few spots of ice remained. There are also geothermal hotspots within the lake, making it the coldest and the hottest spots in the park. (taken from Wikipedia)

Next, it was on to Norris Basin. Norris Basin is the the hottest geyser basin in Yellowstone. The basin is comprised of two distinct sections: The Back Basin is in a forest setting (at least it was before the 1988 fires, now its more of a regenerating forest setting). It contains geysers and hot springs tucked among the trees. The Porcelain Basin is characterized by a lack of vegetation. No plants can live in the hot, acidic, water emitted from the numerous thermal features in the basin. Porcelain Basin presents a beautiful but desolate visage which is unlike any of the other geyser basins in Yellowstone. (taken from Wikipedia)

After this, we headed to West Yellowstone, where we would spend two nights. We had no hotel reservations and it was getting late in the day, so we decided to end the touring that day to search out a hotel.

We checked several places that looked affordable, ones that I had printed out some info before leaving home, with no luck. All full or we just didn't find them. We finally came upon a place that looked pretty nice, and after checking found vacancies and good rates. I decided not to reserve for a second night because we had no set plans. Once we got to our rooms, I was glad I hadn't! The place was a step up from a dump: no working heat/air and it was in the 40s in the evening, with the night predicted to go into the 30s; no working light bulbs in the bathroom or by the beds; no coffee pot in the room, although there were cups and coffee makings; no face cloths or hand towels in the bathroom, just bath towels; no plugs in the bathroom (!), and that's just the surface. So the first night wasn't exactly the Ritz, but we made do. Asking for these things from the office was a waste of time; they were disorganized and kept telling us "maintenance" would bring the things we needed. Really? When? Because it never happened.

The next morning, when I got up, I walked across the street to the gas station to get coffee. It was cold, and their digital thermometer read 39. After the coffee, I put my running gear on and headed out to get in a short run. Running gear consisted of tights, long sleeve shirt, running vest, headband, and gloves. I told the kids this would not be a beach vacation! The kids werre up also and were going out to get breakfast and wander around town. Once I got out the door to run, I decided to scout around for another hotel. Clearly, no one was happy with this choice, other than the price!

I decided since it was Friday morning, it might be a good idea to not wait until late afternoon or evening again to find a room. I headed down Hwy. 20, westward, which also takes you to Idaho, with the border being about 10 miles from West Yellowstone. The mountains were magnificent! It was definitely cold but not windy, but I was finding myself out of breath easily. I figured I was tired, hungry, or whatever, but it never occurred to me until later when I saw the altitude sign that maybe that was the reason for my shortwindedness! Elevation was 6666. No wonder I had to walk 3 times in 30 minutes!

I checked out the area, stopping at 4 or 5 hotels. Either the rates were out of reach or they didn't have the rooms we needed. I finally tried one more place, the One Horse Motel, which looked like a mom and pop place, and was lucky to have found rooms and one available right then, meaning we could move our stuff from the dump to this place before heading back to the park. While I didn't look at the rooms ahead of time, something made me trust this place. And what a wonderful contrast it was when later we checked in.

The rooms were lodge like, had refrigerator and microwave, big fluffy beds and pillows, and a heater/air conditioner in the room that worked! Lots of other niceties as well. Of course, being a weekend, the rates were almost double what we paid at the other place, but it was worth it. And the owners were very nice!


bill carter said...

Wow! I finally had a chance to read some blogs and what a reward. Beautiful post with fantastic pictures. Yellowstone is on our list of musts and some day we will get there. It is refreshing to hear about the new growth trees and that things for the most part are unchanged. I consider myself pretty conservation oriented and hate what is happening to our world.

Take care and have a great summer.

Lily on the Road said...

Thanks so much for taking me on your vacation! I really like the descriptions and photo's...feels like I was there.

As for the plight of the buffalo, native Indians and for that matter mother nature, I totally agree with you.

So glad you found a nicer hotel, no wonder that other place had vacancies, yikes it sounds disgusting.

Can hardly wait for Part 2!!


ShirleyPerly said...

Yes, we did that same drive from SD through WY (I had a race in SD and another one the following week in ID). All that space in between homes and towns was truly amazing to me, as were the buffalo and other wildlife and natural geothermic features. Can you believe I thought I might be able to do some swimming in Yellowstone lake? Obviously, I had no idea how cold it was there in the summer ...

Glad you were able to find someplace better to stay!

Anne said...

Such beautiful photography...makes me want to move a trip to Yellowstone farther up on my to-do vacation list. I know just what you mean about the broad expanses of ND and Wyoming too. It's beautiful to just see the grasslands stretch on and on.

Thanks for such a thorough report. Those temps made me quit complaining about our 60-degree mornings here.