Day 6: Yellowstone National Park

Day 6 found us waking up in our little apartment at Pahaska Teepee Resort. Our accommodations were the top floor of a large cabin with 5 sleeping accommodations. Ours was actually 3 bedrooms plus a bathroom: one with 2 Queens and two with 1 twin apiece. Pahaska is, I think, the closest lodging to the Park without being in the Park. It has lots of cabins of varying sizes, a restaurant (and gift shop, of course . . . what tourist attraction would be complete without a gift shop?), a tavern for the late-night crowd, and a horse barn and corral. The cabins are fairly rustic, but very comfortable. There is no TV, though there is a phone (which may come in handy because there is absolutely no cell service for miles and the wifi at the Lodge/Office didn’t seem to work so well). The bathroom had clearly been remodeled very recently, with brand-new pine-board walls and ceiling, as well as new pedestal sink, toilet & shower stall. Very clean, very workable for our family.

Our family is not huge breakfast eaters, so we do quite well with continental breakfasts, especially when they are included with the hotel. This was our first hotel without an included breakfast, so we sat down in the dining room and enjoyed a delicious hot breakfast. Our waitress was informative and helpful. When she thought our 9 year old was ordering too much food, she let us know, just in case we wanted to change the order (which we did). And in case you’re interested, the pancakes (both saddle blankets, i.e. plain, and blueberry) are huge, probably at least 12 inches across. In fact, they are slightly bigger than the plate they come on. And they are very thick. So, when the 9 year old was ordering a stack of two, the waitress let us know that it might be more than he needed. True! One was perfect. The 14 year old, however, dug into the short stack of two. The rest of us had various omelets and hash browns and egg skillets and such. Good service and good food.

We headed into Yellowstone for the day, grateful once again for our annual park pass. Yellowstone’s entrance fee is $25. Not sure why so high. May be just because it is so popular; they know they can charge that much.

We’re beginning to find our groove with this national park thing. We’re big on well-considered division of labor in our family: Think about it. Talk about it. Decide what works best for everyone. And proceed with a plan for who does what. Here are a few things we’re realizing about driving in and around the parks. Hal prefers to drive in the parks during the daytime. He likes to look at the scenery and prefers to have someone tell him where to turn and what’s next. I prefer to read the map and review the Park materials to recommend what we should spend time doing and in what order. I also prefer to review the resource materials we have (brochures, booklets, web) to decide what we and the kids need to know before or after we visit a particular location. So, Hal drives. And I navigate, recommend itineraries and offer educational resources.

We spent a full day at Yellowstone and feel that we got a good flavor for it. We drove all the way around what I think is called Grand Loop Rd. We were entering from the East Gate (Rt 14), drove the 27 miles toward the first Visitor Center (27 miles from the Gate to the first Visitor Center . . . did you read that right? Wow, this is a big park!), and then headed south (clockwise) around the loop. We made a few little stops here and there for some beautiful photos (waterfalls, Yellowstone Lake with snow-capped Rockies in the background), but our first real destination was Old Faithful. We spent quite a bit of time there and in the area nearby. We didn’t make it to the Visitor Center, but the Old Faithful Lodge, which is right next to the Geyser, has a clock on the left, right when you walk in, that tells you when (+/- 10 mins) Old Faithful is expected to erupt next. That’s really all you need to know. A bathroom break, a bottle of water to take some Excedrin, and we were headed to find seats for the “show.” There are two rows of benches all the way around a semi-circle surrounding Old Faithful. The crowds really gather for this event every hour of so. And it is very dramatic when it does its thing!

We had lunch at the Cafeteria at the Old Faithful Lodge. The Lodge is a really lovely hotel with a variety of accommodations. My recollection is that I considered staying there, but was not able to book a room that would work for our family. They fill up quickly. The Cafeteria had a variety of really good food – hot & cold. I had a wrap and some vegetable soup. The 9 year old and I shared a delicious slice of carrot cake too. All of this in a beautiful, high, logged-ceiling dining room with window overlooking Old Faithful. We continue to be impressed by the staff at the national parks. What an interesting summer job to have. Hard work, I’m sure, but interesting variety and locations.

After lunch, we walked around the 1 mile loop of the Upper Geyser Basin, which includes Old Faithful. We almost didn’t do this, but were so glad we did. We saw quite a variety of hot springs and smaller geysers that erupt more frequently than Old Faithful. We also learned that Old Faithful is the largest reliable geyser in the world. There are larger, higher-shooting geysers, but they are not reliable with their eruptions. And there are others that are reliable as well, but not as large.

Our family tends to gather information fairly independently for trips like this. We use our print and web resources, but only occasionally stop and ask questions. It’s just how we tend to do things. We were reminded today, though, how much information you can gain by occasionally asking questions. We had read on a website for planning a family trip to Yellowstone that there were “off-map” locations where you could legally soak in Yellowstone hot springs. Every piece of print information we had did not mention this, however. Apparently, we were thinking, it is really “off-map.” We had brought our swim suits, just in case, so we decided to ask the front desk staff at the Old Faithful Lodge about this possibility. The 14 year old was most interested, so he did the asking. Here’s what we learned from the very helpful desk clerk. There were record snows this year, the final one being in June. Summer didn’t really start until 2 weeks ago. Snow remains (we’ve seen lots of it) and is still melting and running off the mountains. There has also been a lot of rain. All this has led to the waters being very high (this we also saw – all the rivers and streams were bursting the banks), which has made the three (two?? They’re off-map, so we never really got straight how many are legal.) swimmable hot springs too dangerous. So, they’re closed for now until further notice. We quit looking for our off-map hot springs soak. Oh well. Maybe another time.

The rest of the day was spent gradually making our way around Grand Loop Road, stopping a number of times to see geysers and mud pots and hot springs and waterfalls and wildlife. We identified the sights we wanted to see for sure and mapped out our plan with these in mind. We veered from the plan a number of times as something more interesting came to our attention. The day was beautiful (low 80s, I’m guessing) with a cool breeze that was refreshing. The sulfuric fumes were not as irritating as I thought they might be. The 9 year old kept on saying they smelled like scrambled eggs (which, of course, they did).

We had planned to end up back at the Pahaska Teepee dining room for dinner, but our timing was a bit too tight, so we opted for the Cafeteria at the Lake Yellowstone Lodge. This Lodge appears a little older, but is still quite big and is located right on the shores of Yellowstone Lake. If this were Hal’s blog, he would tell you about the swarms of mosquitoes near the shore as we walked to the restaurant. But this isn’t his blog, so I won’t tell you about them.

I will tell you that we were about 10 feet from a deer and 15 feet from a bison, which were grazing near the road on the way to the Lake Lodge. I will also tell you that the Lake is huge and beautiful with the snow-capped Rockies on the horizon. Wildflowers abound. During our travels, we saw mule deer and lots of bison and even a coyote making its way up the side of a mountain. We had heard from my cousins, David & Suzy, that if you see people stopped at Yellowstone, you should stop and ask them what they’re looking at. We absolutely found this to be true. We saw quite a few creatures by watching what other people were doing. Thanks for the tip, David & Suzy, and also for reminding us to bring binoculars. We are so glad we did.

One other division of labor we’ve discovered: I love driving windy roads at night, and Hal doesn’t. Well, we already knew this. But it is particularly relevant on this trip, so I drove the final leg from dinner to Pahaska Teepee. All in all, we drove almost 170 miles today, just to circle Yellowstone.

Yellowstone was greener and more mountainous than I thought it would be. The geysers and hot springs were eerier and more other-worldly than I thought they would be. All in all, an amazing place. The crowds can be a little hard to take sometimes, but I understand why so many people want to come here.

While we like where we stayed at Yellowstone, our only regret is that we could have finished the day and headed down to Grand Teton that same night. Instead, we’ll be back-tracking in the morning to head into Yellowstone and then south into Grand Teton. Oh well. Live and learn.

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4 Responses to Day 6: Yellowstone National Park

  1. elaine says:

    just curious…are you typing this w/ thumbs?

  2. Ginger says:

    Hi Guys! I just found the blog today and decided to read all the posts to see what the Mercks are up to. It sounds like you are having so much fun!! I especially love all your food descriptions, Jennifer! (That might be because it’s supper time right now and my tummy is growling). 🙂 I wanted to tell you that we got the postcard today from Mt. Rushmore – thank you!! And I wanted to tell Haley that I’m sorry to hear about her carsickness. 😦 Annie and are I getting really excited about the East Coast trip. It won’t be long now!!

  3. Pingback: Day 18: A Recap | life on purpose

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