Grand Tetons & Yellowstone Recap

I can't even begin to put into words how beautiful Yellowstone was.  I'm almost embarassed to share these pictures, because they in no way capture the stunning scenery.My original plan, this being a food blog and all, was to share a post similar to the one I did for our trip to Turkey, complete with all the delicious foods we ate.  Unfortunately, the food was horrid.  I would have rather eaten McDonalds for a week, and that's saying a lot.Apologies that there is little to do with food on this post.  I know this is a food blog, but first and foremost, it's my blog and I can do what I want!  And sometimes I want to obnoxiously share vacation pictures.  Hope you don't mind! Day 1 and 2:

We left Clemson after a pretty awesome victory and flew to Jackson Hole,  Wyoming, crossing over Badlands National Park, now at the top of our US travel list after seeing it from above.  We arrived just in time to watch the sunset over the Tetons - and to surprise a grizzly bear and her three cubs at a scenic overlook!  The next morning, we did some early morning wildlife watching at Jackson Hole Lodge.  Although all we saw was one elk, we did enjoy a gorgeous view of the Tetons shrouded in mist, and the multicolored, sagegrass plains illuminated by the early morning light.  Unfortunately, it started raining shortly after that and barely stopped for the rest of the day.  We decided to brave the drizzle and took a hike around Jenny Lake, a picturesque glacial lake surrounded by cloud covered mountains on one side.  The trail clung to the mountain side of the lake, past waterfalls and rocky cliffs and ended at Inspiration Point, a rock clearing overlooking the lake.  I'm sure it would have lived up to it's name if a.) it wasn't rainy/foggy and b.) we weren't sharing the spot with a group of 50 obnoxious high school kids on a field trip.  We decided to be lazy and took a boat back to our cars, then drove to Moose to see the old Mormon homes, still standing from the late 1800s.  You could really get a feel for how secluded they were and how rough life must have been!  Afterwards, we headed back up north to hike around String Lake, which, as you might imagine, is a long narrow lake.  This was my high point of the day.  The area was decimated by fire over 20 years ago and it's now in a stage of recovery.  It reminded me very much of Mount St Helens, a very eerie kind of beauty.  By then, the weather had cleared up just a bit, so we drove to the top of Signal Mountain for views of the park.  Our day ended with wildlife watching at Oxbow bend, a lovely spot on the Snake river where animals tend to congregate.

Day 3:
Our first day in Yellowstone.  The trip in from the Grand Tetons was gorgeous.  The road in brought us over the pitchstone plateau, a thick layer of volcanic rock formed at the last supervolcano eruption, and winded by the Lewis river.  At one point, the river flows through a huge canyon then turns back into an quiet river running through golden fields.  Our first major site in the park was Old Faithful.  I expected it to be like, just a geyser, chillin' by itself, but it’s actually part of a huge complex with over 50 different geysers and even more hot springs and fumeroles.  We spent most of the day exploring the Old Faithful area and two other nearby geyser basins.  My favorite were the hot springs, which varied in color from a  milky, opalescent blue to crystal clear turquoise to rusty orange to golden yellow, often within the same pool.  Some looked so beautiful it was all I could do not to hop in.  Unfortunately the water is scalding and burns your skin like battery acid, so I held myself back.  I also enjoyed the Midway Geyser Basin, which holds the Grand Prismatic Pool, the second largest in the world and Excelsior Geyser, which formed in a huge explosion in the late 1800s to create the third largest geyser in the world.  Their massive size takes your breath away.

Day 4:
It was a busy day with two big sites, Mammoth Hot Springs and the Norris Geyser Basin.  We started off in Norris, which houses some of the most impressive geothermal sites in the park.  Driving to the area was a crazy sight - so much steam is produced that it looks like you're driving straight into a forest fire!  Shortly after we arrived, a lady stopped us to say the Porcelain Basin of Norris was one of the most impressive things she had seen in her entire life, and she wasn't kidding!  It was basically a large valley filled with gesyers, springs and fumeroles.  There was so much activity at the site that the white, silica stained ground looked like it was smoking.  We then drove north to Mammoth Hot Springs, a truly unique site where thousands of years of acidic hot springs has dissolved and redeposited limestone to create intricate, and constantly changing terraces.  The underground water sources are constantly opening and closing, and after they opened under previously forested area, the trees were slowly killed and fossilized.  The result looked almost like dead trees partially buried in snow.  The rest of the day we explored the northwest area.  Two highlights were the Blacktail Plateau Drive, an old Indian trail turned into a one-way dirt road with fantastic views of the park, and the Sheepeater Cliffs, formed when columns of lava solidified into cliffs.

Day 5: Our day started with a strenuous hike to the top of Mount Washburn, a 10,000 foot mountain located smack dab in the middle of the park.  The top rewards with spectacular 360 degree views of the entire park - if you can brave the 40 degree drop in temperature!  We celebrated at the top with cheap mini-bottles of wine, invoking jealousy from the other hikers.  One guy remarked, "You're a genius!"  Our next stop was the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone, which in many ways, was as impressive as the actual grand canyon. I found the contrast of the turquoise blue river and burnt orange canyon walls especially beautiful.  The area we hiked had two large waterfalls, one that was even taller than Niagra Falls.  We took a trail called Uncle Tom's Trail, which takes you down over 300 steps to the bottom of the falls.  While we struggled our way up, someone asked me "Was it worth it?"  My response - "Oh yes!  But it still sucks coming back up!"

Day 6: We drove through Lamar Valley in the morning for mostly unsuccessful wildlife watching, although we get caught in a bison related traffic jam.  The rest of the day was spent outside the park, driving the scenic Beartooth Highway and Chief Joseph Parkway.  The Beartooth Highway curved through the Beartooth mountains, high alpine plateaus, and glacial valleys strewn with rocks and icy clear lakes.  One overlook was so gorgeous, it literally brought a tear to my eye.  Chief Joseph Highway was named for Chief Joseph, a legendary Nez Perce chief who took this route in a fighting retreat from the US Army in 1877.  The road started just outside Yellowstone over what seemed like a massive canyon, but as we wound our way up the nearby mountains, the canyons, lakes and rock formations that once seemed so enormous, were dwarfed by the elevation.  The mountains slowly slipped away and eventually we found ourselves in wide open plains interrupted by random, orange juts of rock spiking out of the ground.  We stopped for a quick dinner in Cody, Wyoming, a cute little town that's all about it's old west heritage, then drove back to Yellowstone through the 50 million year old Absaroka mountains.  Once back in the park, we watched sunset over Lake Yellowstone and made it to Hayden Valley at dusk, just in time to see wolves, recently reintroduced to the area, hunting an elk. Okay, so all we saw was a dot chasing another dot cause it was so far away, but still very cool!

Day 7:

A bit of a cleanup day where we doubled back to a few of the sites we missed the first time around.  We went back to Artists Point, a spot on the Grand Canyon that awards the best view of both the canyon and falls.  Our goal was to get there after sunrise and before all the tour buses piled in.  Big fail.  Fog covered the canyon and we had to elbow our way through huge tour groups to snap a pic.  We visited Sulfur Caldron and Mud Volcano, which are exactly what they sound like - muddy, sulfury and smelly geysers and mud pits.  The highlight of our day, and maybe the entire trip, was when we snuck away from Fairy Falls trail and hiked to the top of a small mountain near the Midway Geyser Basin for a view of the massive geyser and spring from above.  It was a completely different perspective.  From above, it was much easier to see the many rings and layers of colors.  Our last stop in the park was a swimming hole on the Firehole river, which is fed by many of the hot springs and geysers in the Old Faithful area.   It was the perfect way to end such a memorable trip.