Pictures and Itinerary from our trip from South Dakota to Jackson Hole, Wyoming, including Yellowstone National Park and Grand Teton National Park. Links to items discussed could be affiliate links.
Well folks it happened again. And hey at least it gave me a great moment to make myself pause, take a deep breath, edit some photos, and share our time in Wyoming with you guys. But yes, the next dish up I have no notes on. We all kind of remember it. Pretty sure I braised some beef. I have a vague memory of telling Alex she would love it because of either fennel or star anise (she loves licorice flavors). And clearly I tossed it with rice noodles. And that’s all I’ve got. But the good news followed by more good news is I can share what we did in Wyoming with those who are curious and after this I have notes on all of the dishes I have photographed. So stay tuned for more recipes.
As I mentioned in my post about Sough Dakota, we rented a car on our trip out West. We did that to give ourselves freedom of movement but we especially did that so we could take our time driving from Badlands National Park to Jackson Hole, Wyoming. Our first big decision was whether to go to Crazy Horse or Devil’s Tower. We just did not have time to do both. My mom had waxed poetic about Crazy Horse , and I had just read a book about the death of Crazy Horse, Dan O’Brien’s excellent The Contract Surgeon: A Novel, so that was tempting. But apparently, despite my love of history, at the end of the day I will pick Mother Nature over Man. So Devils Tower National Monument it was. It is an astounding spot–it looks fake, even impossible, and I realized after I was there that in addition to being a sacred spot for Native Americans it is also an iconic image for anyone who loves Old Westerns (me and especially me and my dad). So it was amazing on multiple levels. I would love to see Crazy Horse someday, but I did not regret our decision.
After that we took a scenic route that led us through the Big Horn Mountains, a decision that added a ton of mileage but also was in no way regretted. Headed up the mountains, you pass by different layers of rock as you get higher and they have each layer identified for what era it came from, how old it was, which was wild. We came back down and spent the night in Sheridan and then headed to Cody the next day to enter Yellowstone.
The Bear Tooth Highway is probably the most famous (and harrowing) entrance to Yellowstone, but as it comes from Montana and we needed to get to Jackson Hole that night we decided it was just too far out of the way. The entrance by Cody did not disappoint however as we passed many small and medium sized waterfalls and plenty of gorgeous scenery besides. The picture above is taken from the dam near Cody.
As we ascended, we eventually drove completely around Yellowstone Lake at about 8,500 feet. This alpine lake changes colors depending on the sky and angle of sun–we saw it looking everything from a dark navy blue to a brilliant, lighter royal blue that reflected the sky. The weather in the mountains was interesting; it changed much more quickly than what this Midwestern girl is used to. It could be cloudless blue to one side while a storm is brewing up to your other side. Despite what many of these pictures might imply, I do not believe we had any days that were gray start to finish.
This next story does not reflect well on me, but it is probably my favorite story to tell from the entire trip. To really put yourself in my shoes you have to imagine the insane excitement of seeing all of these animals in the wild. I momentarily lost my mind.
We had left Yellowstone National Park and were headed to Grand Teton National Park. There is a stretch of road between the two that belongs to neither. The traffic was horribly backed up and like any Easterner I was bitching a bluestreak about the traffic for getting into Teton National Park and why couldn’t they be more efficient. After about 10-15 minutes I started to clue in and asked John to hop out and see if anything exciting was going on. Right after he hopped out, traffic started to move but by then I was excited so I just left him behind. Then traffic stopped again so I told the kids to get out and find out what was going on. At that point (and really you need to see Sammy tell this story) a man came tearing down the road, to me looking excited but apparently to Sammy looking terrified, waving his arms and screaming “GRIZZLY BEAR!!!!!!!!” The traffic then moved so I hollered at the kids to get back in (poor John had yet to catch up) and Alex got in the car and I hit the gas. Leaving Sammy stranded, waiting for the grizzly bear (in her mind). Now in fairness to me, in my mind I left her to quickly get a parking spot. But as far as she is concerned, I left her to be eaten.
This is a proof of grizzly picture–not a particularly nice picture! He was pretty far back (thank goodness for all of us).
So we got parked (and John and Sammy caught up). The first thing you need to understand is that Yellowstone cyclically has forest fires–as a healthy thing, not like California. So random areas of Yellowstone are burnt out–and thus it is easier to see the bear way back from the road. We were watching, sometimes able to see, sometimes not, when all of a sudden he shot out of the forest about 50 yards down the road chasing a small animal. And I mean shot–for a large and not particularly svelte animal, grizzly bears can move really fast. We believe it was a young deer. Some people claim he caught it, I could not see. And thus we also have the tale of how Sammy stopped eating meat. She was pretty upset on behalf of that deer. As for me, I thought it was mind blowingly cool I saw something like that.
We spent most of our time in Jackson Hole at a ranch–not a dude ranch. Before you ask. It was upscale (until this point we went budget) but at the end of the day most of the cost was about real estate and horses. After I got over my disappointment at not being pampered as much as I expected (feel free to email me for details) I decided I was still ok with it (John not as much). Because every time I looked out our window/balcony I got goosebumps (picture above).
Because we were working around the Fourth of July (and thus a holiday) our first excursion, an all day safari into Yellowstone National Park, was a little poorly timed. It was still awesome but the girls were a little cranky. Somehow over the years I had forgotten that Yellowstone is a supervolcano, and thus, with the exception of course of Old Faithful, I had forgotten that the park is full of amazing thermal events to experience. I am sure ultimately we could have found some or even a lot of them, but it was wonderful having a guide to take us to all of them and explain the different types and which was what.
We were mostly unlucky regarding animals (not counting the bison at Old Faithful, but by now we had seen loads of bison) but then on the drive back we encountered some bull elks hanging out. And I say hanging out because that is what they were doing. There was a guide present, keeping a close eye and allowing us to get decently close, who explained that unless it is rutting season, male elk leave the herd and essentially hang out together in their equivalent of a sports bar, which made me laugh. I love the pictures I got here.
The next day we had a float trip on the Snake River scheduled–and thank goodness. We definitely needed to slow down. We saw bald eagles, we maybe saw a moose (the guide said it was there but I never saw it), and had an amazing view of the Tetons. The girls, acting more like the pre and teenagers they are, tried to refuse having their pictures taken. So of course their punishment is having these ridiculous pictures shared:
That night we had a well deserved rest, and then the next day we did our white water rafting trip, also on the Snake River. This was the perfect introduction to white water rafting for the kids. I was super nervous about it, because my introduction to white water rafting had come on the Lower Gauley, which is a serious white water rafting river, with III and IV rapids (and my mother tells me they were class V that year, water level affects everything). Looking back as a mom, I think my mom was nuts. I would have had a heart attack. Snake River was all class I rapids, still super exciting but without the fear of serious injury if you fell out. We all had a blast–you had to wear wet suits, with water temperature in the 40s (F), and the air temperature was about 65 F. Only I dove in when given the chance, but I love cold water. I don’t have any pictures (for obvious reasons) but the shot below is from the float trip on the Snake River.
That night we went to a BBQ at the ranch where we were staying. As a side note, Jackson Hole is at 6,400 feet (our ranch was probably closer to 7,000) and while I escaped elevation sickness until the last day, man I was a cheap date regarding alcohol. The all you can drink wine at the BBQ quickly did me in! Alex and I spent most of the time patting and feeding the horses; in fact we fed them so much and so long that both of our palms turned green from picking grass (there were a lot more of them than just the ones pictured)!
Continuing the equestrian theme, the next day was our trail ride. There are no words for what this meant to me. I grew up on Westerns, and my maternal grandparents had a bit of a Western bent. My grandpa loved Louis L’Amour books, we played with cowboy figures, not barbies, at their house, he was a cattle farmer, my mom showed horses as a teenager, and I grew up riding (Western of course) with a few horses in my backyard. So as I said at the time, and have said many times since, I had been waiting my whole life to ride horses in the mountains, I just did not know it until I did it.
That night was our dusk safari into Grand Teton National Park. Sadly we were pretty unlucky while searching for animals this time. I could have sat quietly waiting for hours but by now my family, and especially the kids, were pretty much done with looking for animals out windows. For me, no matter where I was or what I was doing in the area, the landscape was such that I was happy. I understand why people visit and don’t come home. However, John feels about the cold the way I feel about the heat, so I am not gearing up to tell you we are moving or anything. I was enthralled by the idea of the 600 inches of snow they got last year and John was horrified.
Our last day we stayed at a small boutique hotel in Jackson (the city, versus Jackson Hole). We had explored the city already more than we had expected to, so we decided to visit Teton Village, a winter sports hot spot where we had heard there is a tram you could take to a viewing spot. For whatever reason, the way people referred to it, John and I were expecting it to go a few hundred feet up to a lookout spot. And of course, this last day was the first day I had a headache–I think I needed water. We got onto the tram, the doors shut, and the guide announced that we would be shooting 4,000 feet up the side of the mountain to get to the top.
My kids, who usually reject the order to bring sweatshirts, were the only ones with sweatshirts. The next thing we knew I had a splitting headache and we were on top of one of the Tetons. The first thing I did was down a Powerade–the first thing my kids did was start having a snowball fight! I felt better after my Powerade and a water, so then of course I just started being amazed. And shivering. We were at 10,500 feet, my kids were now sitting on what looks like an edge (but wasn’t) overlooking Jackson Hole (see picture above). John and I had waffles from Top of the World Waffles (where there is only a generator powering things and no plumbing but the waffle was delicious) but the kids in their sweatshirts did not want to leave the snow. Once I felt better this was easily one of the most amazing experiences of our trip. You can see Idaho from up there, and the view of the back of the mountains, seen below, is also amazing. Who knows if it would have been so impressive if we had expected it, but since we didn’t, it was spectacular.
I just wish I had had a sweatshirt.
I said Sammy loved Deadwood and Alex the Badlands. For John it was specifically being up on top of the mountain the last day. For me, Jackson Hole and the Tetons. I could live there. Our last day I was pretty bummed to leave. It was wonderful getting back to the dogs, but I really hope I can get back to Jackson Hole someday. I spent my whole life waiting to ride horses in the mountains and just be in that scenery and did not know until I did it.