Sunday, July 20, 2014


We are not planners so that is one reason we got the van. No need for reservations or tickets. We did block out a week for a family vacation (I had “go somewhere” in the calendar) and we looked to Yellowstone as a destination. It’s about a 9-hour drive from Boulder. You might want to plan your trip, but your itinerary could go something like this:
Day 1: Leave a bit later than hoped and run a couple of errands on the way out. Opt to not stop for lunch, get really hungry, and picnic at a rest area near Chugwater, WY (all Wyoming rest areas have the same distinctive architecture), where one child declares that “this” is a bad idea, that they feel sick, and that we should turn around and head home immediately. End lunch stop by breaking glass coffee press. Carry on driving.
Find a mall and buy a new coffee press and a soccer ball. Dine again en route near Hell’s Half Acre (same style rest area, different location), but this time BEFORE dire hunger sets in and with a soccer ball that runs off much of the children’s energy.
Camp north of Shoshoni, WY, in Boysen state park (spotted by our chief navigator on the one small map we had) along a river in a canyon in the Absaroka Range.
Day 2: Breakfast in the state park includes the company of three horses from the adjacent site who are enjoying grass along the riverbank. Three horses and three people (two bearded) share the trailer. Truck door says: “Dan Boyd, the last circuit riding preacher, riding for Jesus.” Feels timeless.
Petroglyph sign in Thermopolis
Drive an hour to Thermopolis, WY, home of hot springs and another state park. Spend some time in the park, in the pools, on the water slides, in the vapor caves, on the high dive, and of course in the hot tubs. Showers!

Rees, soaking in Thermopolis
Lunch in Thermopolis, visit a bookstore (get map of Wyoming and book about camping in Wyoming) and the post office. Chief navigator now has the tools to plan our tour of northwestern Wyoming and our nation's first National Park. Head on to Cody were we stop to buy a remedy for the child whose ear became painfully plugged on a deep descent after jumping off the high dive. Shop at Sierra Trading Post.
Carry on towards Yellowstone! Almost there, but get stopped by a landslide. River has suddenly turned muddy with red dirt, large trees floating down, road is blocked. Turn around and camp in a nearby state park with other slide refugees. Campgrounds here require “hard sided” vehicles—no tents or pop-up trailers—because of problems with grizzlies (!). Watch big earth moving equipment pass by on the road before we turn in for the night.

Day 3: After a quiet night with no traffic on the road, we wake to hear cars passing through in both directions. We hightail it to Yellowstone's East Entrance (Park has 5 entrances, one in each cardinal direction and an extra one in the northeast) and after passing many a bison on the road, secure a (somewhat cramped but adequate) campsite at Norris in the center of the park for two nights (campsites here are first-come and we arrived just in the nick of time, about 9:30am).
Eat breakfast at the new campsite and drive the northern loop of the park (Park has a main, central road that is shaped like a figure 8. We're camped near the center of the figure 8, on the west side. On the first day, we drive around the top loop of the 8.) to see more hot springs at Mammoth. Sadly, you can’t swim in these, but we have a nice lunch at the Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel and learn we can go in the Gardiner river just up the road where it is joined by the Boiling River. Fun, but also unsatisfying as it is either scalding hot or freezing cold. Like a body-sized mixer tap. Ugh.
Mammoth Hot Springs
Carry on driving clockwise around the northern loop of the park back to the campsite. Takes all day. We hike a bit and see much lovely scenery: horse-drawn carriages, pronghorn, a moose, and a petrified redwood. Also, right in the middle of the park, a dead bison with a huge flock of observers waiting to see the predators (wolves, bears) descend at dusk.

Day 4: Geyser day! We head counter-clockwise around the western side of the southern loop into the heart of the caldera. Unbelievable spurting, spouting, bubbling, breathing places, each one unique. Unbelievable that we are in an active volcano, peering down into the boiling depths. There are roads that are melting. All these people flock here and it is such a draw and so fascinating and at the same time seems like such folly, like it is perhaps tempting fate. And it stinks—with sulphur. This is a supervolcano. This is crazy.

Even the teenagers think this is mildly interesting. 

Lunch is at Old Faithful which is such a phenomenon. Quite the marketing success: do something that lasts about 10 mins, repeatedly, every 60 to 90 mins, for decades, and people will come—boy will they come! Fascinating on so many levels: geologically, historically, socially. The Old Faithful Inn is spectacular too, but I couldn’t help but think about all the floral suncatchers in the gift shop window that would be suddenly gone in the impending blast.
For the rest of the day we see endless holes in the ground, each with its own features and colors and rhythms.

We find a nice place to swim in the Firehole River, except that it is 5pm and 68 degrees and so we pass (if it had been 1pm and 90 degrees…). See another moose (with attendant swarms of cameras), and add bald eagle and elk to the list of animals.
Dinner at camp and a sound sleep.
Is he paid to sit there?

Day 5: Leave campsite heading around the eastern side of the southern loop this time. Pass the dead bison again and see that it is much reduced and scattered. Just miss a view of a pack of wolves (according to the paparazzi frenzy we enquired of), and, after a couple more geyser basins (lunch at the lovely yellow and deco Lake Hotel), head out around the lake (elk!) and the south gate of the park towards the Tetons.

Only glimpse the Tetons before heading diagonally SE across Wyoming again, through the Wind River Range, slightly south of our path on the way in. Ranches and the great outdoors: big sky, horses, cattle, fish, game. Spend the night at a gem of a campsite on Green Mountain, a refreshing oasis between Lander and Rawlins with wildflowers, aspen trees, and a babbling brook.

Day 6: Within striking distance of home, but opt for one more hot springs en route in Saratoga south of Rawlins. Free pools (hot, hot, hot!) and a much more satisfying junction with the river where the water is evenly warm (and the pools are in the shade!). First shower since Thermopolis. Ahhh! The Red Box at the gas station signals salvation for one in our party—a movie to pass the time.
The drive east through the Snowy Range is chilly and steep. It looks like a magical fairyland with its emerald green grass, blue sky, puffy clouds, alpine lakes, wild flowers, and striking white boulders. How have we never been here before?

Late lunch in Laramie where we visit a bookstore and a cowgirl yarn store and then drive the last stretch home….a good week.


1 comment:

Lisa G. said...

Need to find out where you all camped in the snowy range - looks awesome!!!