Happy Thursday, friends, and happy almost holiday weekend! We’ll be heading to the mountains for a couple of days, but before we left I wanted to spread the word about an amazing initiative that was recently brought to my attention. The program — called Adventure Responsibly — is being spearheaded by Travelodge by Wyndham, and they hosted a cleanup event at Rocky Mountain National Park this past Tuesday. Unfortunately I couldn’t make the actual event (you know, kids and all), but I am here to make sure all you lovely readers know about future ones, in case there is one happening near you that you might be able to join.
After spending a full day with the Tetons on Thursday, Chris and I packed up our belongings from the Tiny House and hopped back in the car to head over to Yellowstone National Park, where we would be spending the next day and 1/2.
A word first about where we slept — the Kings Inn Cody Hotel in Cody, Wyoming. While there’s a lot to love about this hotel (the eccentric decorations in the lobby and stairwell and the free continental breakfast come to mind), and the town of Cody appeared to be really adorable and quaint and quintessentially mid-western (although we didn’t really get to explore it), Cody is actually quite a distance from the park (about an hour after you make it out of the park, which can take a while depending where you are), so I’d recommend trying first to find somewhere closer, if that’s possible (which it wasn’t for us).
Anyway, it doesn’t matter where we stayed, because we spent full days in the park anyway, and only made it back to the hotel on Friday and Saturday night to pass out. (We made it back so late on Friday that everything was closed for dinner! We had to order pizza from Dominos and save some for the following night, since we knew that would be a late night, too!)
So Yellowstone — oh, Yellowstone. Where do I begin? There’s just so much to love. For starters, it’s important to recognize that it’s been an incredibly active animal season in Yellowstone this year, which is amazing and also a bit scary. There have been some pretty terrible bear encounters, and even a couple of bad bison encounters at some of the parks recently. So we took our bear spray with us again everywhere, tried to hike only when we were with other groups of people and made lots of noise whenever we were in bear territory … the last thing you want to do is come up on a bear and scare or surprise him. Luckily we were safe the entire time, but it’s important to be smart and stay vigilant every single time you visit a park with wildlife. These are wild animals … and no matter how tame and calm they may seem while you’re watching them from afar, things can change in an instant and you really need to stay on your toes.
Okay — enough of that! Once you have properly educated yourself on the way to handle wild animal encounters (!), there is no end to what you can see and do in Yellowstone!
Here’s what we got up to:
^^ Old Faithful erupting! So cool.
^^ Bear footprint! We saw this about 20 minutes before a black momma bear and her baby walked right up to our car as we were driving home. Chris and I spent about 10 seconds yelling at each other to “grab the camera! grab the flash flight!” before just sitting back and enjoying the sight. Ah, nature. Perfectly lovely, when you’re safe in your car and can watch from a distance 😉
^^ Guys, there’s a coyote in this picture, I swear! The park was especially active with coyote and wolves around this time, too. Unfortunately we were about 5 minutes too late to catch the wolves on our last night, but we saw some amazing pictures from people who did get to see them!
^^ The Mud Volcano — there are a bunch of different geysers to see around this part of the park, as well, definitely worth checking out!
^^ The Lower Falls as seen from our ridiculously steep Uncle Tom’s Trail hike. You guys, this hike is absolutely worth it — if you’re feeling fit enough to do it. It’s definitely not a joke. Yellowstone is over 7000 ft. above sea level, which is pretty high, even for me, coming from Denver at 5280 ft. The hike itself covers a span of about 500 feet, and includes hundreds (I’m not exaggerating) of steps. If you take your time and acclimate before attempting this hike, it’s totally worth the view at the end, though. For those afraid of heights, the open metal stairs might pose a small problem, too. I’d recommend just holding onto the railing and looking straight ahead … not down!
^^ The Grand Canyon of Yellowstone.
^^ Views on our Trout Lake hike. This hike is gorgeous (as you can see from the above photo), and it’s relatively short to get to the lake, but it is steep, and it’s deep in bear country, so do not do this hike without bear spray and lots of other people to make noise!
^^ Dipping our toes in Lamar River, where tons of people were fly fishing, which is so fun to watch!
^^ While the momma and baby bear was my favorite bear sighting, this was Chris’s. There’s a big ole’ grizzly in the middle of this photo (find him!), which some kind fellow watchers were nice enough to let us borrow their telescopes to see closer. He stayed in this field for hours, eating berries, chasing bison and just generally having a grand old time. It was really something to see.
^^ This bison and a friend of his wandered super close to our group while we were watching out for the wolves on our last night in Yellowstone. I was a tad scared, to say the least, but no one else seemed to mind, and he did end up minding his own business. Still, it was definitely a bit closer than I normally like to get to wildlife, unless I’m in my car. (Makes for good pictures, though!)
^^ There was a fire that had been started by lightening the whole time we were in the park, but it was far enough away that it didn’t pose any real threat to the visitors just yet. The park has a “let it burn” policy, actually, as this type of thing is nature’s way of rejuvenating the land.
And that, my friends, is it. Our trips to Jackson, the Tetons and Yellowstone, in three succinct blog posts. Here’s what I’ll say — you could spend weeks here and probably see something new every single day. It’s an amazing, amazing place, and I hope to be back again in the future.
Bis bald, friends!
On Saturday, Chris and I hopped in the car and drove out to Rocky Mountain National Park, a 415 square mile park that encompasses some of the most beautiful landscape I’ve seen yet in Colorado — and that’s really saying something.
So to start, we decided to bite the bullet and purchase an America the Beautiful National Parks and Federal Recreational Lands Annual Pass for $80. An individual car entrance for just one visit to Rocky Mountain National Park is $20, and we’ve already been to Arches National Park and have plans to visit Grand Teton National Park, Yellowstone National Park and Glacier National Park (we plan to visit Mount Rushmore as well, but there’s no fee to get in to see the monument there, and the parking fee isn’t covered by the annual pass) — so we figured it will probably be worth the cost.
Now let’s talk a little bit about the Trail Ridge Road, which was the first thing we tackled on our visit … holy cow, friends, it’s insane! From the park site:
Covering the 48 miles between Estes Park on the park’s east side and Grand Lake on the west, Trail Ridge Road more than lives up to its advanced billing. Eleven miles of this high highway travel above treeline, the elevation near 11,500 feet where the park’s evergreen forests come to a halt. As it winds across the tundra’s vastness to its high point at 12,183 feet elevation, Trail Ridge Road (U.S. 34) offers visitors thrilling views, wildlife sightings and spectacular alpine wildflower exhibitions, all from the comfort of their car.
The drive up to the visitor’s center is absolutely stunning, with plenty of places to pull off along the side of the road and gawk. If you’re lucky — like we were — you might even see tons of animals, like deer, marmot, groundhogs, squirrels and chipmunks and, our all-time favorite, the bighorn sheep.
While the views here are unlike any you’ll find anywhere else, you will need to pay attention to signs of altitude sickness. At over 12,000 feet in spots, I definitely wouldn’t recommend taking visitors here on their first day in Colorado. You’ll need to give yourself time to acclimate to the higher altitude, drink plenty of water and take things slowwwww. There’s no shame in taking your time on hikes around here — no one wants to have to deal with the effects of altitude sickness … blech!
Oh and one other word of wise — wear pants and bring a coat! Chris and I were total rookies and didn’t even think about the fact that high altitude brings chilly weather (we’re talking 50s and low 60s here, people), so we were forced to buy sweaters from the visitors center just to be able to make it through the rest of the day!
We took a couple of hours to see everything we wanted along the ride (I would recommend driving all the way up to the visitor’s center first, checking that out and doing the short little hike near the center, then driving back down to make your stops), and we even pulled over at one particularly gorgeous spot to stop and have some lunch we had packed. After we headed over to the super simple Bear Lake hike, which is only a .6 mile loops with no incline.
We were going to attempt the Alberta Falls 1.2 mile hike, as well, but at that point we were getting a bit tired and felt like we had jam packed a lot into our first ever trip to Rocky Mountain National Park.
But don’t worry, Alberta Falls — now that we’ve got our annual pass, we’ll be back for ya!
Bis bald, friends!