Family Vacation 1998
Yellowstone Park

Daily reports on the vacation trip

Hello from sunny, cool, and windy Winnemucca (Saturday morning) We spent the night in Winnemucca Nevada. Its sunny, cool, and windy here this morning. The speed limit on Hwy 80 in Nevada is 75! I'm looking forward to getting across the state more quickly than before.

It's on to Salt Lake City today. Then after a day there, north to Yellowstone. I'll bore you with any trip highlights as we find them.

Salt Lake City (Sunday morning)

We took about 6 hours to drive from Winnemucca to Salt Lake City yesterday. The big excitement was that Rebecca drove for 3 hours. She's a pretty experienced driver but had never driven the van at 75 miles per hour. There were a couple of construction areas where those 3 trailer trucks seemed pretty close. There is still snow on top of the higher mountains all across Nevada. That is an unusual sight during our trips. We've never seen the great salt desert quite as wet as it was this year. Usually you can walk out onto the salt at the first Utah rest stop but it was underwater this year. If you've never driven across it, the salt desert is quite a sight. It's about 30 miles of nothing but a flat area where the surface is completely white with a thick layer of salt. It seems long when you are traveling at 75. I can't imagine what it was like for the California bound pioneers who traveled 20 miles a day. Salt Lake City seems to be doing a huge interstate highway repair project. I80 and I15 are both closed through the center of the city. You have to take the bypass around the city for either route. What a mess. They have relined the roads to add a lane so the traffic seems especially close. I was told that they are preparing for the Olympics. The Wasatch Mountains are beautiful as usual.

Rebecca's friend tried to convince us that the white stuff on top of the mountains was salt that has blown up from the lake over the years. Sorry, we didn't bite on that story.

Today we'll travel around SLC a little and drive up to Park City for dinner.

Wednesday morning, Yellowstone area

It's Wednesday morning. We're in West Yellowstone Montana, right on the  western edge of Yellowstone Park. Sorry I haven't reported in the last couple of days.

On Sunday, we toured around the Salt Lake City area. The excitement of the day was driving up "Big Cottonwood Canyon", past the "Solitude" ski area to Guardsman pass. The view from the summit was really great. Salt Lake City on one side, and Park City on the other, with several distant ranges of mountains visible. The road down the other side to Park City was marked as closed. It is a dirt road and still had quite a bit of snow on the side. The road itself was wet but not icy. After we threw a few snowballs at each other, we decided that the van, while not four wheel drive was high enough off the ground to make it through. (We did see several vehicles coming up from the Park City side and knew that the road was open all the way. It was a little bumpy and there was a one way stretch where we did not want to meet another car, but mostly an easy drive down.

Monday we drove to West Yellowstone. The trip was pretty boring until we got beyond Idaho Falls and could see the Tetons to the east. We arrived at the motel early in the afternoon and just took it easy until dinner.

Tuesday we took the southern loop through the park. While we stopped at several of the active geyser areas, the main activity was looking for wildlife. On the way into the park we saw some large brown cranes (sandhill?) and a small herd of buffalo. As usual, there were dumb people walking far too close to the buffalo to get the "right" picture.

The park literature says that more people are hurt by buffalo than by any other animals in the park but always because the people get too close. We joked that some of the visitors from the east probably think that the rangers bring truckloads of animals out each morning and position them at good spots along the road so the tourists can see them. Sometimes it does almost seem like the animals are posed for us.

With so many visible along the roads, you can't help but wonder just what the park population really is. There were quite a few calves in the herds and most of the adults looked really shaggy since they were still shedding their winter coats. We saw one walk through a shallow river then roll in the dust, covering itself with a layer of mud.

We saw lots of elk including a couple of large bulls with huge sets of antlers all covered with velvet yet.

At the Old Faithful area, we of course watched the geyser. As we were waiting, the geyser shot off a couple of teaser spurts and I heard a couple of people asking each other if that was the eruption. No question when the real eruption happened. Even after you've seen it many times, a geyser is still impressive. After the eruption we went on a quest for ice cream and failed. The lines were just too long.

We drove around the edge of the lake going back north. Just after we passed the campground at the "Fishing Bridge" area, we saw a brown animal on a hillside and though "just another buffalo". Amy said "Stop", that isn't a buffalo, it's a bear. I stopped and we got the binoculars trained on the animal and sure enough, it wasn't only a bear, it was a grizzly bear. It is uncommon enough to see a bear in Yellowstone these days, seeing a grizzly is a real treat. The bear was browsing along the hillside looking for food. The big problem was that just over the hill was the campground. We watched the bear slowly make it's way toward the campground but just after it went over the hill several park rangers arrived and chased it back into the woods. In all our visits to Yellowstone, we've never seen a grizzly before. We never expected to see one, so that was definitely the high point of the day.

Continuing the trip back, we passed several more small herds of buffalo, and a spot in the Yellowstone River where some white pelicans were fishing. We saw several dear out for evening meals in the meadows and a few more elk, including some mothers with what looked like really young calves.

We were all tired by the time we got back to the motel so after dinner, we went to sleep. Today, we will take the north loop. We are talking about a rafting trip for tomorrow.

Thursday morning

Yesterday we drove around the northern loop roads. It was surprising how much less crowded the park was in the northern areas. I guess most people stay with the southern area which has Old Faithful and most of the more famous sites.

We visited Echinus Geyser in the Norris Geyser Basin. Echinus is a special geyser because you watch it fill a pool with water as if it was just a hot spring, then when it gets to a certain level, it erupts. It isn't as high as Old Faithful or many of the other geysers but you can watch it from much closer. After the eruption, the pool empties. Sometimes you can see whirlpool effect as it drains. Then the whole cycle starts over. Echinus erupts about every 45 minutes.

There were several small, unnamed pools or springs in the Norris area. We wondered (as woodworkers might) if we could use a router to carve a name (Jealous Spring, Left-Out Spring, etc) into a 2x6, attach it to a short piece of log, paint it the right color, and leave it in front of one of the unnamed pools. Would our name then be there forever?

We finally satisfied the quest for Ice Cream at Mammoth Hot Springs Village. There wasn't much of a line at the fast food shop there.

Mammoth Hot Springs is named for some hot springs that have built huge travertine terraces. I'm not sure why these springs behave so differently. Perhaps it has to do with the volume of water flowing and the amount of dissolved minerals.

We'd started the day saying that if we saw a moose our search for wildlife would be complete. We don't even think about seeing a wolf. We saw a marmot during our lunch time picnic, but as a big rodent, marmots aren't that exciting. Well, during the drive we saw a big bull moose with velvet covered antlers eating grass along the roadside. We probably got a good picture of him since he was very close. We'd been searching the swampy areas really carefully so it was a big surprise to find the moose right beside the road.

During one of our short hikes up to a Yellowstone Canyon overlook, my father and I both saw a bird (white head brown body) soaring along the river way below us. It was probably a bald eagle but we can't be certain, we just didn't see it for long enough.

At Tower Falls, we hiked down to the bottom of the falls. It was a short hike but all down hill. (And of course all uphill on the way back.) The bottom of the falls was like another climate with ferns and other high moisture plants all around. The mist the falls generated made the air near the bottom really cool and refreshing. I wish we'd had that mist at the top, after the hike up.

As we drove over Dunraven Pass (8893 feet) there was snow on both sides of the road. It almost felt like we'd gone back to winter. From there we drove to the Canyon junction and back to West Yellowstone. In one of the quiet areas along the Madison River we saw a swan. I suspect there was at least one more in the area but we only saw one.

Today we are rafting on the Gallatin River. The pamphlet claims class III and IV rapids and says the trip is for all experience levels. If you don't hear from me again, you'll know that my party never returned….

Friday morning

It's Friday morning. This is our last day in the Yellowstone area. Yes, I did survive the rafting trip. We weren't able to do the harder trip. The rafting company told us that because of a water "surge" overnight they weren't taking anyone under 18 on the lower river trip and we would have to do the upper trip which has fewer, milder rapids.

The trip was still fun. We were on the river for a little over 2 hours and the guide was careful to steer us into the most turbulent parts of most of the rapids so we did get a pretty rough ride in some spots.

Rebecca confessed after the trip that she'd been a little worried and didn't mind the milder trip at all. The river temperature was in the 40s but the air temperature was in the 70s with a clear sky and bright sun. We got soaked but didn't get cold.

We are thinking about driving south to Grand Teton National Park today. It's a pretty long drive but the Tetons are beautiful mountains. The peaks look like they come to needle sharp points.

Saturday morning

We drove about 2 hours to Grand Teton National Park yesterday. We had lunch at a picnic area overlooking Jackson Lake. We found a shady spot under some pine trees looking out at the lake and felt like forgetting the rest of the drive and just staying there. The Tetons are just as jagged and majestic as I remember them. They rise over 6000 steep feet (looks like a 60 degree angle but I'm sure it isn't) out of a valley, no foothills or anything like that at all. (Of course the valley is at over 5000 feet altitude.) There are several glaciers on the mountains, in one area snow was almost down to lake level. The Tetons are the result of the Teton Fault where the west side rose to form the  mountains and the east side sunk to form a deep valley that was later filled in by glacier action. The really weird thing is that the top 200 feet of the mountains is sedimentary rock from an inland sea that covered the area several hundred million years ago. The rest of the mountains are gneiss a metamorphic rock.

We hiked along the shore of String Lake to Leigh Lake. The lakes are so clear you can see the bottom way out from shore. With the high mountains rising just on the other side of them, the setting is beautiful. We decided that next time we come to this area, we'll try to stay in the Tetons and explore the area a lot more. There were quite a few canoes and rafts in the water and the people paddling around looked like they were having a great time. When we come here again, we'll have to bring something like that.

We saw a couple more Moose during our drive. One was a bull with a small set of antlers, the other was a cow. Both were in more what you expect as moose habitat where they were ankle deep in a marsh eating.

We're heading off to Elko Nevada today. I hope they have some kind of 4th of July celebration.

We ate dinner at a great "family style" basque restaurant in Elko and saw the Elko fireworks. Drove home on Sunday. We sure hit bad traffic coming out of the Sierras on Highway 80. If I'd thought ahead better we might have come home on Monday to avoid the Sunday evening return traffic.