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Summer Drive - Americas National Parks in Utah & Wyoming

Days 7 thru 13 - Yellowstone Nat'l Park


View Driving the West - 2020 on rorndorff's travel map.

We departed Jackson early Friday morning on a path north for one last view of the Grand Tetons, majestically standing in the early morning light. Our goal for the day was to visit the famously photographed barn with the glorious peaks as a backdrop. It should be an easy drive up thru the park to the entrance of Yellowstone's south entrance. Our goal was to do a bit of hiking and visit Old Faithful on our way to our base for the next 7 days just outside of Yellowstone in Island Park, ID. Vehicular traffic was down, but with the opening day of many services including the marina in the Grand Tetons park, it was good to see America opening up again.

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Day 7 - As we worked our way up US Hwy 89 along the jagged peaks we discussed how many photos have been taken over the years. One of Ansel Adams most iconic pictures taken in 1942 on Jackson Lake with the Tetons in the background was taken along this very highway we were on. But our first stop was the famous barn out to the east of the highway out on Antelope Flats. It wasn't hard to find, Shirley got us to the location (you can find it here: John Moulton Barn, it wasn't busy, only a couple of individuals trying to recreate the iconic picture.

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It was a great shot, and one that I hope is etched in my memory for years to come. Once the image was safely on camera cards we moved on to the trailhead for a walk along Herron Pond at the Marina. As we got closer to the turnoff for the marina we came upon throngs of onlookers armed with telephoto lenses and tripods waiting for a chance to photograph the bears in the meadows and the trees lining it, all doing their best to stay 6' apart!

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The hike originally was to go out to the far point south of the Marina, but due to high levels of bear activity access was closed off, but access to Herron Pond and Swan Lake were still open. Armed with our bear spray (since bears can't read) we set off for a nice quiet walk along Jackson Lake and up thru the lightly forested trail to the ponds. A great loop for bird watching, we saw ducks, geese, hawk and gulls. We stopped along the eastern shore of the pond and took this photo of the two of us. By the time we returned to our car the lots around the marina, restaurant and general stores were filling up. As we made our way back out to the highway from the marina we encountered another traffic jam from yet more photographers looking for the bears.

We said our goodbyes to the Tetons as we entered Yellowstone Nat'l Park. A nice leisurely drive up the western Grand Loop Rd along Yellowstone Lake and stopping at Old Faithful. I was a bit concerned that we would encounter thousands of people at the most popular stop in Yellowstone on a Friday afternoon, but much to my surprise traffic was light and manageable.

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On the byway into the attraction we saw our first buffalo, up close and personal in the median of the road. Excellent start to our exploration of Yellowstone! Social distancing all along the boardwalk spread out the crowd as we sat and waited for the geyser to erupt. Visitor center was closed, education center was closed, what a different experience from our last park. I suppose its because Yellowstone is the most visited park in the US with over 7 million visitors annually that the national park service believes it would be difficult to control the crowds and social distance. We continued our journey up the loop road along some scenic rivers, thermal springs and meadows as we headed west from Madison to the west entrance and our condo for the next seven days.

Day 8 - We opted to stay close to our condo on Saturday and did a local hike up Henry's fork and box canyon. It was an easy hike for us but the views of the river were fantastic. Saving our strength for Sunday in Yellowstone.

Day 9 & 10 - Weather just wasn't cooperating with us as a cold front moved in and a summer snow was expected. We woke up to an early summer snow day in Island Park with overnight temperatures dipping into the low 20's with the highs only expected to reach the 40's, a might chilly for us desert dwellers from Scottsdale where friends shared the triple digit heat was expected to rise to blistering 116 degrees! We managed to bundle up and head down to the indoor hot tub for a soak and I cooked a crockpot chicken cacciatore. We walked the golf course loop (1.25 mi) bundled up just to get our exercise since the condo fitness room was closed due to COVID.

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Day 11 - We got an early start back into the park given the unknown number of travelers who would be visiting the park. We decided to break our visit to the park into three separate days, concentrating on and around a particular junction due to the enormous size of the park, over 2.2 million acres. First would be Madison, then Mammoth Hot Springs, and finish up with Canyon Village. We jumped into the car and headed into West Yellowstone for some breakfast at Running Bear Pancake House. Coffee was hot, food was good, and we beat the crowds that started streaming in shortly after we arrived. With our bellies full and coffee'd up, we headed for Fairy Falls, a 5.5 mile in and out trail thru a section of reforestation from the 1988 forest fire near here. The trail hugs the treeline along the Grand Prismatic thermal hot spring and then makes a sharp left turn to go back into the forest before it opens up to a nice flow of water over the rocks to our feet. We hiked back out to the car and passed a large number of groups just heading out along the trail. As we headed back north on our way up to Mammoth Hot Springs we stopped on the other side of the grand prismatic hot springs and meandered along the boardwalk. The colors of the area around the holes and the changing color of the water was a sight to see.

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We headed back up the grand loop only to be delayed by a large herd of buffalo making their way up the road. All we could see about 5 cars ahead of us was buffalo butts and poop all along the road. It was an up close and personal experience! One of the younger ones got separated from the main herd and acted like he was going to ram any car that got in his way. Ultimately he got back with the herd. There must of been a 100 in several different herds making their way up to the large meadow at Madison. Took us over an hour to navigate the 15 miles back to the junction. We then continued heading north to Mammoth. At 45 mph max speed, plus the countless RV's on the highway, it sometimes seems like forever to get from one point to another. Shirley reminded me that we had no place to be, and we should enjoy the moment for what it brings to us. It was amazing to me to think that we are driving thru one of the largest Calderas in the country, approximately 30 miles by 45 miles, with a magna layer underneath the earth's crust measuring 35 miles long, 18 miles wide and 7 miles deep! There were many sights to see along our trip up to Mammoth with thermal vents spewing steam right along the highway. Herds of Buffalo could be seen in the open fields against the backdrop of snow covered mountains. Yellowstone is truly one of the most unusual national parks in existence.

We settled on a long loop trail on the outskirts of the small area known as Mammoth Hot Springs where boardwalks took a switchback approach up the side of a mountain with vent holes everywhere. According to the sign posted at the trailhead a bear had been sighted on the trail just this morning. Always alert and bear aware, we headed up the trail. We traversed along a creek ravine, climbed up into a grassy meadow with a view back down on Yellowstone's oldest hotel and cabins, the Mammoth Hotel, first constructed in 1883. This area of Yellowstone was the landing spot for visitors coming to Yellowstone. They would arrive by large stagecoaches from the north and after resting at the hotel continue in smaller horse drawn coaches over the grand loop road to other parts of the park.

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As we continued along the trail we spotted a small herd of deer feeding in the meadow off the distance. As we drew closer some of the herd moved away, while the others stopped and stared at us as we stood taking pictures.
Quite the hike on the top of the mesa on the return side of the loop and it seemed like we were miles away from civilization. The ending trail head left us in town behind the hotel and cabins with another 1/2 mile walk along the road back to our car. I will say we were dog tired after a collective total of about 11.5 miles of hiking.

Because the canyon road was closed from the village to the Tower Roosevelt junction, we were forced to head back the same way we came to get out to the west entrance. We stopped in West Yellowstone for a welcome frosty mug of beer and a burger at the Buffalo Bar in honor of herds we saw on the road. All in all a stupendous day in the park!

Day 12 - We decided due to increasing traffic in the park, even though all the locals said 'this was nothing', we decided to make this day our last visit to Yellowstone. We were not disappointed by saving the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone as our last exploration. The north part of the grand loop took us over to this area of the park that was formed over 640,000 years ago with a massive eruption and subsequent years of erosion to form this magnificent canyon.

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Yellowstone Falls cascades over the multicolered canyon walls down into what appears from high above, to be a narrow fast moving channel of water with sheer rock cliffs on both the north and the south sides. After our research, we decided to get out to Artist Point to photograph the falls in the morning light. No packs, just armed with cameras and iPhones we were only one of two or three families taking in the sheer beauty of the moment. We stopped by the trailhead to Point Sublime and noticed the route up to Clear Lake came back thru here and then on to the south rim trail. We were excited to get out on the trail and see the back-country. We headed down to the South Rim parking lot and found the Clear Lake trail. With our packs loaded and our hiking shoes laced up we headed out on a 6.5 mile loop trail on the south side of the canyon. The trail was still a little wet and muddy in places but not unmanageable. We climbed up the grassy hillside away from the lot and came upon Clear Lake. Water was crystal clear, but far from still as there were little vent holes that were bubbling up from underground, and a bit of a sulfur smell around us. Little did we know this would be a precursor to what lay ahead on the trail.

After departing the lake thru a lightly forested area we came out into a cleared area with downed trees moon like dust everywhere. As I looked ahead down the trail there appeared a plume of what I thought was smoke. My first thought was someone had abandoned a campfire (which are not permitted anywhere in park), but as I approached it turned out to be a small thermal vent about 2 feet across making gurgling sounds (ADD MOVIE HERE). Simply an absolute wonder from mother nature. Another clearing and yet another surreal scene of something out of this world, with thermal vents to our left and right. Some bubbling muddy, almost concrete looking substances out of them changing the landscape around them as we stood in amazement. The trail wound thru this geological delight and made its way back into the forest again to transverse Lilly Pad pond, again with the thermal bubbles, finally taking us back up to the canyon edge. We headed out to Point Sublime with a photo opportunity at every twist of the trail. After collecting our thoughts at the overlook at the furthest point on the trail we headed back down the trail to Artist Point and onto the South Rim trail back to our car.

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As we made our way back along the same route we took to get to the canyon we decided to stop and have a picnic lunch along the Virginia Cascades just east of Norris junction. As I mentioned travel in the early days were by horse drawn stagecoach along narrow roads, sometime with dramatic dropoffs, Virginia Cascades area is one of the original roadbeds in the park. It is now a one way road today with the main highway up above, but it gives visitors a glimpse into early travel in the park. Most of the original roadbed has been replaced or relocated to make modern travel by car feasible, but it is worth the drive along one of these roads in the park just to get a feel for the olden days. I just imagined some of the first gas powered cars meeting each other head on trying to pass one another on these narrow passages. It was a terrific experience and one you should not miss.

Posted by rorndorff 06:43 Archived in USA Tagged mountains parks hiking driving national usa Comments (0)

Summer Drive - Americas National Parks in Utah & Wyoming

Day 5 & 6 - Grand Tetons Nat'l Park

semi-overcast 81 °F
View Driving the West - 2020 on rorndorff's travel map.

We arrived late afternoon after a long drive up Hwy 89 from Heber City into Jackson, WY; gateway to the Tetons. One look around the filled parking lots and people on the street took us back a bit given the COVID issue. It looked like a typical tourist area with the only exception being almost everyone was wearing a mask. Retail establishments had limits on how many people could come in at one time, restaurants practicing social distancing and using mobile phone menus, and volunteers in the town square explaining why these measures were necessary to bring tourism back to the area.

Day 5 - The Tetons was on the top of my list for a visit simply for its natural beauty, wildlife, and countless photo opportunities. We had two full days at the park and wanted to maximize our time there so we started out early each day. Some local advice recommended we start our first day at Jenny Lake. Visitor Centers and services were closed or not operating, but almost all of the trails were open.

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With the sun rising in the east, and the skies clear, it was an absolutely magnificent sight with the towering Tetons rising from the shore, reflections proudly displayed in the still waters of Jenny Lake. A photo op extraordinaire. From our research we chose to hike the path counterclockwise ensuring the snow capped peaks were never far from our gaze. The Jenny Lake Loop is a 7.5 mi trail that travels around the lake. During normal park operations a NPS run ferry shuttle takes passengers across the lake to a dock on the west side for easier access to Hidden Falls, cutting about 3.5 miles off of the hike. Due to COVID the ferry was not operating, although due to resume on June 5th with other services restarting as well. On the first 3/4 of our hike we did not run into any other hikers, but because of the ferry not running the last 1/4 of the trail (southwest end of the lake) was packed with families making the trek up to Hidden Falls.

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With the abundance of sunshine the area had gotten over the last couple of weeks (higher temps), the melt was at its peak. The falls and creek were at capacity and as we approached the base we could hear the roar of the falling water. A short easy side trail from the main trail provided us with a fantastic view of mother nature in all of its glory. As we made our way back to the trailhead on the main loop we were approached by a group of young women who were very animated, sharing with us their own close encounter with a bear and its cub on the trail just ahead of us. We proceeded with caution and 'bear aware' eyes and ears, but we didn't see the wildlife. We did both agree that our next stop would be the outfitters store in Jackson to buy bear spray for our upcoming hikes. On the last mile of our hike we came up a short rise in a lightly forested area and came upon two young elk, seemingly oblivious to our approach, they continued to much on leaves and grass. Both had been fitted with a tracking collar for migrant study by the park service.

As we unlaced our hiking boots and stored away our gear, I sat on the back of our SUV and gazed out at what we just experienced in total amazement of the sheer beauty and ruggedness of this very special place. Can't wait to see what tomorrow holds for us.

Day 6 - We wanted to hike up into the canyon areas of the Tetons, so we chose a path up into Death Canyon along the north side of Phelps Lake.

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Our original plan was to take the lake trail up to a connecting point on the Canyon trail, but the parking area for the trail head was closed, and there were no pullouts along the windy narrow road. Plan B was to take a side road up to the Death Canyon Trailhead along an unimproved, pothole pervasive 1.5 mile dirt road. We parked just down from the trail in a pull off because I didn't like the condition of the road ahead. This just added a 1/4 mile to our hike, but saved on wear and tear of our SUV. Armed with bear spray picked up the night before we headed out on the trail, an out and back 10.5 mile round trip to the top of the canyon where it intersects with the crest trail that runs the length of the park. We were told by locals that there would still be snow on the ground at the higher elevations so we weren't exactly sure how far we would get. With the elevation change we knew this would be a good warm up for our summer in the Sawtooth Range. Not more than 1/2 mile into our hike, in a meadow about 200 yards down we spotted a mother bear and 2 cubs. I suspect one was a year old and the other newborn this spring. They were munching away on leaves and the mother looked directly up at us. We kept moving and i tried to snap a picture of the three further up the trail, but they were pretty hard to see thru the trees we sought for cover.

The trail was in pretty good shape, but the creek feeding Phelps Lake had overflowed its banks in places making it difficult to maneuver the flooded areas, but we managed just fine. Crossing several feeder creeks was not an issue, but we now got into some pretty serious switchbacks up the side of the canyon overlooking the raging white water coming off the mountain down to the lake. We stopped several times to just take in the awesomeness of the experience, snapping a few pictures along the way. We came up to the first snow field still across the trail. Others had gone before us, but without clamp ons I wanted to make sure we had sure footing.

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Taking my time, using existing foot holds from previous hikers, I dug deeper footholds while bracing myself with my pole on the down slope. We made it over just fine, but wondered what lay ahead. We crossed several other small patches of snow on the trail but finally arrived at another deeper snow field that I decided would be our turnaround point. This snow field fell directly into the swift moving waters about 100 ft below with nothing to stop us should we have one misstep over the snow. We turned around and made our way back down the canyon, slightly disappointed that we didn't make to to the top, but rewarded with fantastic views of the lake in the distance.

Once back in the SUV we decided to take a drive up to Coulter Bay and scope out a hike for the following day. Lots of activity in the area due to the park service opening up the marina, restaurant and general stores on June 5th. Quite a sight to see Jackson Lake with not one single boat on it and a marina dock totally empty against a backdrop of the Tetons. Heading back to Jackson for our last night in town took us on a walk about of the town square and a nice dinner out to a place called Gather, that had its grand re-opening that evening. Our server, Joe, told us about Victor-Driggs area after we told him we had looked last year at spending the summer in Jackson, but it was too expensive to rent. Perhaps we can drive thru the area after spending the week in Island Park on our way up to Stanley.

Posted by rorndorff 10:09 Archived in USA Tagged mountains parks hiking driving national usa Comments (0)

Summer Drive - Americas National Parks in Utah & Wyoming

Day 4 - Capital Reef National Park

sunny 92 °F
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We decided to divert from Hwy 89 to take the scenic byway, Hwy 12 from Tropic, UT up to Capital Reef National Park. This is one of only a handful of spectacular routes in America. Over 120 miles, and going northeast, it was a bit out of our way heading up to Grand Tetons but everyone we had talked with said it was well worth the diversion. We passed many canyons, river valleys and small out of the way one horse towns. It was a colorful trip and the weather was warm and sunny.

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Capital Reef was our destination, with the goal of getting at least one hike in before noon. We decided on Chimney Rock, with some magnificent views of the valley and awesome rock formations along a 5 mile trek. We hiked the loop counterclockwise and encountered the toughest uphill climb yet on the way out. Shirley and I both remarked it reminded us of something out of the Flintstones cartoon we both grew up watching! Smoothed red rocks with a backdrop of grays, browns and white layers in the volcanic cliffs in front of us as we kept a healthy pace around the trail. Shirley stopped for her traditional yoga pose in the rocks on this one.

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Once down from the mountain we headed into the park and made our way to the southern part of the canyon where we once again had a terrific picnic lunch and toasted our travels so far with a cold beer and wine cooler. As we made our way back up the winding road Shirley drove and I got a chance to video the amazing sites out of the passenger window. I must have been anticipating our next stop in Grand Teton National Park when I stopped and got this picture of a barn sitting against the backdrop of the red rocks! Hit the road about 2PM to drive up to Heber City, UT as a stopover on our way up to Wyoming and the Tetons.

Posted by rorndorff 18:15 Archived in USA Tagged mountains parks hiking driving national usa Comments (0)

Summer Drive - Americas National Parks in Utah & Wyoming

Day 2 & 3 - Hiking the wonder of Bryce National Park

sunny 89 °F
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We are following US Hwy 89 & making our way to Bryce Canyon National Park to spend a full day hiking the canyon and seeing the natural beauty of the Park. Shirley and I had not spent much time in Utah other than flying thru SLC, or my one business trip up to Park City, UT. It is truly a study in diverse climate and geology. The one silver lining to COVID has been the lighter volume of traffic on the roads and inside the national parks.

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We stayed a quaint little 'resort' at the end of town in Tropic, UT. Cabins were purchased from the national park, relocated here, and somewhat refurbished. Clean, quiet and a small little restaurant on site with live music every night. Food was OK, but service was great and it was sooo nice to be served again after cooking at home for the last 7 weeks!

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We got up early and headed to the park around 7AM. The parking area had a few cars who came for the sunset, we were using this trailhead to hike the Fairyland Loop. A tough 8.2 mile hike around all of the various formations. Spectacular views, early morning sun, and best of all, very few hikers on the trail. As we came around a bend and started up a good incline we looked up and spotted a Coyote standing at the top looking down at us. We just stood and stared back and he soon scampered off back the way he came. I don't believe you can take a 'bad' picture in this park. You have to see it for yourself. Just standing in the middle of million year old spires, Hoodoos and rock slides puts our time here on earth in perspective.

Dog tired after trekking the loop and making our way back to the car we drove down to the southern most point and had a nice picnic lunch on a table on the canyon edge. Nice way to finish out Bryce Canyon.

Posted by rorndorff 17:28 Archived in USA Tagged mountains parks hiking driving national usa Comments (0)

Summer Drive - Americas National Parks in Utah & Wyoming

Day 1 - Page, Arizona

sunny 101 °F
View Driving the West - 2020 on rorndorff's travel map.

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This is the third summer we have left the hot heat of Scottsdale and parked ourselves somewhere cool. 2 years ago it was back up to my hometown of Seattle, and the home of our grandkids. Last summer was spent in downtown Denver exploring the city on foot and over the light rail. This year we are heading up to middle Idaho for a new adventure on a luxury dude ranch. I took an extern/internship after completing my holistic nutrition and wellness coaching classes. I am working with the executive chef on nutritious crew meals (and whatever else he needs), and Shirley will be teaching yoga and waiting on tables in her spare time! The ranch is in the middle of the Sawtooth National Recreation area encompassing over 750K acres and tons of trails to explore on our days off. These entries are from our 2 week drive from Scottsdale to Stanley passing thru some of the most beautiful areas of our country. 4 of the 5 national parks in Utah and Wyoming and countless forests, state lands and cities along the way.

Day 1 - Scottsdale, AZ to Page, AZ
On the banks of Lake Powell lies the sleepy little town of Page Arizona, our goal for Day 1. Car is packed to the roof with all of our gear and stuff we need for 3 months in Idaho. We've done these road trips before, and it never ceases to amaze me the accumulation of stuff we 'think' we need to survive for the summer! Shirley did a great job of keeping us organized, the garage piles remained relatively small, but it was still a full load.

A nice easy first day on the road, albeit a bit different with the COVID thing going on. Masks on the ready, attractions still closed, parks just starting to open, we really didn't know what to expect. We traveled up I-17 to Flagstaff and then went north on US Hwy 89. This highway stretches from Arizona all the way up to the Canadian border in Montana by Glacier National Park. A scenic byway with splashes of color from yesteryear along the route. Our goal was to see as much of this highway on our way up north.

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Glen Canyon Wilderness area holds one of the largest and deepest bodies of water in the area. Even with COVID in full swing there were jet skis, boaters, and hikers all around. We stopped first at the lookout facing east as the sun started to retreat behind the rocks to the west. From there we made our way over to Horseshoe Bend, just south of town. A magnificent sight to behold with the green colors of the water against the stark rock backdrop. There was a wedding going on. Quite the sight to see the bride in her dress, bridesmaid holding up the dresses train, walking the 1 mile down to the cliffs edge.

We are learning the new normal out on the road with masks, sanitizer, and distancing. Hotels don't serve breakfast anymore, no maid service and pools, hot tubs and exercise rooms are all closed. Given all that our country has been thru it was a small price to pay for being back out in the great outdoors and on our way north to cooler temps!

Keep checking back for additional posts as we work our way up to the ranch...

Posted by rorndorff 12:12 Archived in USA Tagged mountains parks hiking driving national usa Comments (0)

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