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16 states in 15 days, part two

October 22, 2010

Our next big destination was Yellowstone, but we made a couple surprise stops for the kids before we got there.  We had secretly planned to visit towns bearing the names of each of our children in different places along our route, and the first of them was Harrison, Nebraska in honor of our oldest. We stopped for burgers, fries & shakes at a tiny cafe in the town and were thrilled to find a Harrison, NE souvenir T-shirt in the gift shop. Apparently Harrison is known as the town with the highest elevation and lowest population in the state.

Our future paleontologist was pretty excited to visit a real dino dig site

After the quick detour in Nebraska, we headed to our next hotel in Casper, Wyoming. From this point in the trip we kept our driving times to around 6 hours a day because we knew we’d all be restless and tired of the car. That left plenty of time for things like laundry and swimming in the hotel pools. Our stop in Casper was little more than that. We got back on the road the next day and headed to another surprise destination. We took our dinosaur loving bunch to the Wyoming Dinosaur Center in Thermopolis, Wyoming. They have a nice museum, but the big highlight here was boarding a bus for a dusty drive up an old mountain road to a dinosaur dig site.

After our prehistoric diversion, we were back on the road to Yellowstone. We stopped to sleep at a little motel in Dubois, Wyoming, just outside the Tetons, so that we could start our trip into the parks bright and early in the morning. We had been hearing reports of “snow on the pass” throughout the evening. Sure enough, the next morning as we climbed over the continental divide, we found ourselves entering a winter wonderland. Unfortunately it was also a slushy, muddy wonderland because “the pass” was undergoing some pretty serious road construction. When we emerged on the other side, our car was unrecognizable beneath the shroud of caked-on mud.

Nonetheless, the overnight snow made for a breathtaking first glimpse of the Tetons. We spent a couple hours driving  around the park, soaking in the crisp mountain air (a smell that no detergent manufacturer has ever accurately captured), in awe of how the mountains seemed to disappear into the clouds.

As we made our way through the park toward Yellowstone, I was amazed at how the scenery changed so quickly from one park to the next. Driving into Yellowstone from the south, with a dusting of snow covering all the pines, it felt like we were entering Narnia. We crossed the Continental Divide three more times, spotted a few deer along the way and caught a few glimpses of a winding blue river. By the time we made it to the Grand Loop Road, the snow was gone and the view outside had changed from white and green to prairie gold.

We drove to the hotel in West Yellowstone to meet my sister, who had traveled up from Utah to see Yellowstone with us, and then started sight-seeing around the lower loop toward Old Faithful. Let me just say, the smell of the bubbling pools of sulfuric goo in the geyser basin is something that will never escape my memory. I was amazed at how apocalyptic it all felt. We walked on boardwalks that were crossing these bubbling pools, surrounded by smelly steam so thick that I couldn’t see the kids in front of me.

When we made it to Old Faithful we were cold and damp from the steamy wind, and exhausted from a long day of driving. I was relieved to find a lovely climate-controlled visitors center with a comfortable bench and a nice view of the geyser where my sister and I could rest with the youngest. Then a few minutes before the expected eruption, we walked outside to see it close up. There was a lot of whispering, “oooh, is something happening?” and, “no, nothing yet,” but eventually Old Faithful proved true to its name.

On our second day in Yellowstone, we covered the upper loop which took us to the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone, Tower Falls, and Mammoth Hot Springs.

We also traversed a few back roads in search of bears or moose, but there were none to be found. We saw massive elk and buffalo wandering all around the park, and each time there were hundreds of cars stopped in the road to take pictures. I thought the same thing here that I thought when we visited Disney in September, “If it is this busy now, I can only imagine what it would be like in summer!”

Could it be... a grizzly bear?

Finally, as we were driving through Lamar Valley, we caught a glimpse of a bear. You’ll just have to take my word for it because it was too far away for a good picture, but the people with the huge, thousand-dollar telephoto lenses on their cameras informed us that it was indeed a grizzly bear.

The next morning we headed out right after breakfast for one last drive through the park. When we saw a line of cars backed up for miles, we thought that certainly it had to be one of the rarer animals. After more than an hour of sitting in traffic we saw what might have started out as a moose or a bear, but in the end was only a fender-bender from someone taking pictures while driving.

The weather was beautiful and warm on our last day, so we stopped to see Old Faithful one more time before leaving the park. We also drove back through the Tetons. This time the scenery was quite different. The clouds and snow had been replaced by sunshine and blue sky. We ate lunch and spent a little time playing at Jenny Lake and attempted to hike for a little bit, but not more than 5 minutes after we got on the trail, our youngest had a bathroom emergency and we decided to put an end to our visit. With our bellies and our eyes full, we got back on the road toward Colorado.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. Debby Morton permalink
    October 22, 2010 3:37 pm

    Fantastic reading Kendra. Since you have not arrived back in Paulding county I know there is another instalment coming and I can’t wait to read it.

  2. October 22, 2010 3:43 pm

    This was absolute sheer pleasure for me to read! The family fun. The neat stops at towns with your boys’ names! Ah those photos – at some of my most favorite spots in the world. Smiling big. ~ Tricia

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