Thursday, May 23, 2019

Our Longest Road Trip Yet

This year was the year we decided to conquer a trip to Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks.  We weren't going to wuss out either, we were going to drive it.  I turned the park planning over to the Mr (a first for him on our big vacays), and I focused on side trips and getting us out there without ending up with DVT.  Because we're big fans of National Lampoon's Vacation (and that the Mr's first cross country road trip with a sibling resulted in ZERO stops), I wanted to fit in some Griswold style stops for us to stretch our legs.

Pinkie the elephant in Wisconsin as we hit the last snowstorm of the season.  The Corn Palace in Mitchell, SD, and yes, that mural in the middle is made of ears of corn.  The Jolly Green Giant statue in Blue Earth, MN, and the Dignity Statue at a rest stop in Chamberlain, SD.

Our first major stop that didn't involve a stop off for gas or bathrooms was Badlands National Park.  It was cool to see all of the layers in the formations.

According to the NPS website, the layers are composed of tiny grains of sediments such as sand, silt, and clay that have been cemented together into sedimentary rocks. The sedimentary rock layers of Badlands National Park were deposited during the late Cretaceous Period (67 to 75 million years ago) throughout the Late Eocene (34 to 37 million years ago) and Oligocene Epochs (26 to 34 million years ago).   So yeah, they old.

You may have heard of the famous Wall Drug Store if you're a fan of travel shows.  The Mr was itching to get here, and I was looking forward to the "backyard" which is where pic props and such are for good photo ops.

I have to say, the store(s) itself is nothing special.  Lots of souvenirs but nothing I would say are unique souvenirs so if you drive by it and are totally bummed it was closed for store purposes only.  Don't be.  But the stuff out back is fun to pose with and be hokey.

We stayed 2 nights in Rapid City, SD and spent our full day going to see Mount Rushmore and a glance at Crazy Horse.

We also went to Custer State Park, which was gorgeous.  The Needles Highway is amazing to drive, and you can see some awesome scenery, including Sylvan Lake.

You can also see some majestic wildlife like bison...

...blacktail deer and pronghorn.

On our way west, we hit Sundance Wyoming and Devil's Tower, which was one of the Mr's favorite stops on the trip.  We almost didn't think we were going to go because we hit our second snowstorm and it was quite apparent Wyoming doesn't get around to plowing roads until noon.

It was a great stop with a trading post out front where you can actually get some great pics without having to pay to go in the park if you don't have the time.  But if you do, there are some prairies with some adorable, fluffy prairie dogs in their natural habitat.

We stayed in Montana as our home base for the first week.  I am SUPER picky when it comes to home rentals and found what was as close to perfect, aesthetically, as I could get.  That's the cabin in the middle of the top left pic.

We had marmots that visited on the regular along with deer, turkeys, magpies, some elk in the mountains and had trout to feed in the pond.  We enjoyed a few fires inside with the woodburning fireplace and spent our anniversary roasting weenies and eating smores.

Then it was on to Yellowstone National Park.  We broke it up over several days and enjoyed being immediately greeted with wildlife just past the Roosevelt Arch.

The Mammoth Springs area was cool to see the stair step formations, but we both agree the Norris Geyser Basin was our favorite.  I think that had a lot to do with us getting there very early and had it almost to ourselves, but the brilliance of the pools and colors around them from the bacteria were awesome.

Obviously, we saw Old Faithful and some of the other major sites like the famous falls, Grand Prismatic Spring and spring is baby season, and we were more than happy to see them.

There are a ton of wildlife viewing opportunities almost everywhere in the park (even outside of it) like bison taking a rest in the middle of town, bighorn sheep, elk, cranes, and frolicking babies.

The second half of our vacation was the Grand Tetons and the south portion of Yellowstone since it didn't open until later in the trip.  But first, we made a point to road trip to Idaho, which was close to the border of where we were staying.  We drove 2 hours into Idaho Falls, and it was actually a beautiful state!

I'm sure most Idahoans don't want me spilling the beans on how beautiful it is there, but even after doing the Griswold-ish potato museum (with a great cafe attached), there was plenty to see.  We drove around potato farms, visited Hell's Half Acre, which are lava fields that look like the Big Island of Hawaii and of course, we had to visit the manmade Idaho Falls.

Our new digs were in Jackson, Wyoming, and chosen specifically because it had the most opportunities for moose sightings.  We've been dying to see a moose for years ever since we saw our first moose crossing sign in Maine.  Our place didn't disappoint on that front.

As we were getting ready to do our workout, the Mr spotted a large animal out of the cheesecloth like closed blinds.  Thinking it was a horse, he opened the window and noticed Marty.  We spent the next 15-20 minutes watching him from a respectable distance as he ate twigs, leaves and pine cones.  I just sat there and cried.  It was a pleasure watching him, and we were treated to another moose on the property a few days later just chillin'.  Both came back in the evening on the days we saw them and then several moose in the park as well.

Speaking of the park, Grand Teton National Park could not be more beautiful.  The star of the show is really the mountain range and all of the different angles to view them from.  Obviously, you can go to more famous spots like Mormon Row for pics of the barn which everyone's seen a zillion times (so I didn't show it), but there are other spots like Menor's Ferry and the chapel that are worth a stop as well.

We made our way back to Yellowstone via the south entrance and saw West Thumb, Yellowstone Lake, and the mud volcano area.  Some of the roads were still closed so there are things we didn't get to see but glad for the things we could.

We stayed a 10-minute drive from Jackson which is not to be confused with Jackson Hole.  Jackson is the town while Jackson Hole refers to the entire valley.  It's famous for its antler arches made with elk antlers that they shed every year.

While there wasn't as much wildlife as Yellowstone, Grand Teton and the surrounding Elk Refuge had some amazing viewing opportunities.

It still makes us shake our head that some tourists have asked employees what they do with the animals at night.  Seriously?

And for those of you noticing an absence and wondering...

While it would've been nice to see some...from a distance...I was terrified to run into one, especially on a trail since they're just waking up and searching for good food sources of which I would make an excellent one.  I'm sure we'll see one sometime but not this go round.

We put close to 6000 miles on the new car so it's a good thing it'll be coming to me when he's done with it.  We broke up driving to and fro with stops on the way there at attractions, and since there wasn't much by way of attractions on the drive back through Nebraska and the plains, we made that drive go fast with two audiobooks.  Richard Blade: World in My Eyes which is a must read if you grew up in the '80s and even better if you do the audiobook and Olivia Newton John's Don't Stop Believin' which is also a must for any Livvy fan.  I would also recommend the audiobook version for hers because she is so animated reading it and gets very emotional and you couldn't get that from just a read on your own.

It was truly the trip of a lifetime, and we had more downtime on this trip than ever before, but it was planned that way.  We do wish it had been less windy some days because the winds made it impossible to soak in any warmer temps, but it was still good.  It was the wildlife that made it so special and of course, the person I shared the road with.  We had no idea what to expect, and you just hope a trip that long doesn't end in disappointment, and I'll be honest, we had some.  We started with wipers that needed replaced 7 hours into the trip and 3 hours into the trek back, our wiper fluid pump had a leak, and we had no fluid going through the heart of bug country.  It was hard not to barf until the next pull off to squeegee off the death at a gas station.  That has been fixed, but something is also wrong with the A/C that we're 90% sure the dealer won't be able to replicate so yeah.  Thankfully, it didn't give out or anything, but it's making weird noises and given we returned to 90-degree temps, my fear is until it craps out on the random is when they'll take it seriously.

Have you been to Yellowstone and/or Grand Teton National Parks?

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  1. This was the trip of a lifetime and I'm so glad we did it. Yes it is a long drive but that drive was so rewarding because of all the planned and unplanned stops. I never realized just how exciting it is to see wildlife all around you but that is the magic not just of the national parks themselves but also in the surrounding areas and how so many people live their normal lives with elk and moose running around in their yards, etc. Of course I would have loved to have seen a bear, especially a grizzly, but all the moose we saw more than made up for it. For anyone on the fence about going, just go. It's worth it!

  2. Wow, that's amazing! Thank you for taking us along I loved it.
    Never been there myself

  3. I'm so glad you guys went! And it sounds like it was a good trip. When we went last summer we did see a couple of bears off in a field, but the big high-light was the wolf we saw. I was bummed that I didn't see any otters, but we were there at the wrong time of year and they were higher up in the backcountry. The mud volacano is so gross, but so cool at the same time, and I agree about the Norris basin being absolutely beautiful.

    This summer I thing our road trip is going to be Mt. Rushmore.

    1. Well, I will say this, plan more than Mt Rushmore because you could literally spend 15 minutes there and be good. (And get there early) Custer State Park is within 10 miles of it and is like a mini Yellowstone in some ways. I think if you don't add that to the itinerary, you'd be disappointed in Rushmore alone.

  4. Such a wonderful trip with fantastic pictures!! So happy you had such a fun time with plenty of relaxation. I have been to Yellowstone a couple of times on camping trips with my mom and to Mt. Rushmore. My mom has been to just about all the places you mentioned and the Grand Tetons were among her favorite, along with Yellowstone. She hiked for miles and pitched her tent and ate her food over her little stove for weeks at a time. There are literally boxes of pictures from all her trips, which is pretty awesome to see. I've been to most states out west, but very few out east.

  5. So glad you enjoyed your trip. Our last family vacation (when I was a kid) in 1977 was very similar to the one you just took. I've been looking forward to going back - thanks for the updated tips!

  6. I love a good road trip - yours sounds wonderful! Great pictures and awesome memories. Honestly, you two take the best trips!


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