Since they’re both huge, I devoted an entire day to Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Park(s). Grand Teton curves around Jackson, a bit like Pac-Man, if you imagine Jackson as the pellet being eaten, and you can drive a fair way into the park before you hit the fee booths. Not that that mattered to me, with my annual pass, but it’s really a very lovely drive for free. The road parallels the Grand Tetons and the Snake River, with plenty of overlooks along the way, before it finally curves into the body of the park.
I knew that I’d be pushing alongside other tourists all day, so I did my best to get up early to try and beat the crowd. I was in the park by 7 am, although out here, it’s practically full daylight by then; I think the sun rises around 3 am or so. Still, it was early enough so that I caught quite a few animals roaming around. Pelicans and an elk hiding in the tall grass (no photo, even at that time other cars took up all the space on the nearest overlook) at Oxbow Bend, chipper little ground squirrels running in and out of grass tufts, and even the classic bison road crossing.
Grand Teton had so many nice animal shots, I was a little later than planned getting into Yellowstone. The two parks are only a handful of miles apart, and US 89 runs right from one park to the other, so that at least was easy. But after that, it was a bit of a madhouse. Driving around was fine but finding parking at nearly every attraction was a nightmare. I circled the Old Faithful lot for nearly ten minutes–at least I did end up getting there in time for it to go off. But even something like the Fountain Paint Pot site was jammed. And you did run into “critter jams,” where cars would block off the two-lane road by stopping to photograph some animal by the side of the road (usually a bison, they seemed to love posing, and I even saw one roll onto its back and kick up its heels). The worst blockage was when someone spotted a bear. After waiting for a half-hour to crawl by, I got up close enough to pull over and did, since at that point I wanted to see if it was worth it. We were at the bottom of a steep hill, a couple semi-skeptical rangers supervising the traffic, and way up near the top was a brown speck that the people with binoculars swore was the bear. I’m still not sure myself. Whatever it was, it held me up long enough so that I had to cut out about a third of my planned drive, or else I’d have been arriving at my nightly booking after dark (as it was, I cut it pretty close).
Supposed bear, Yellowstone National Park
The geyser and related sites were beautiful, at least. They come in such extreme colors: the crusts around Old Faithful were so white that in the sunlight, they made my eyes water, the paint pots are soft Southwestern pastels, and the sulfur is a lurid yellow against the deep turquoise waters of the hot springs. And then you juxtapose that against the cartoonish blurping and popping sounds, and you’re trying not to snicker without quite knowing why.
After leaving Yellowstone, I stopped off in Cody, WY for dinner. There was a country western concert somewhere, spilling into the air, and the main drag featured the Irma Hotel
, built by founder Buffalo Bill Cody himself. It had costumed servers, the original wooden bar, and most importantly to me at that moment, a delicious prime rib dinner, with a crisp seasoned skin that crackled off the meat, which was tender enough without coming in a (much-welcomed) pool of juices. Roasted red-skin potatoes with cracked black pepper and mashed potatoes rounded out the meal. I was starving, and you can tell because I actually ate two-thirds of the prime rib all by myself; normally, I barely make it to a half.
Prime rib with mashed and roasted potatoes, Irma Hotel, Cody, WY
Airbnb is a “bunkhouse” on a ranch outside of Basin, WY. Not a lot of choice in WY, but this is a pretty luxury bunkhouse as they go, with a private shower, a desk, portable heaters and an A/C unit. I can occasionally hear cows lowing in the distance. It’s just plain fun. And while the drive out was a bit long, I finally was able to snap a photo of pronghorn! Benefits of having the highway basically to yourself for ten miles in either direction.
Pronghorn outside of Basin, WY
Animals seen and not photographed: That elk, a deer, various waterfowl.