Tetons & Yellowstone
We spent 10 days in the region of Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Park. We stayed the majority of time at a dude ranch outside of the Tetons to celebrate Tesa’s birthday.
We stayed 3 nights at the Canyon Village Campground with Kim and her family (Chris’ sister), and Tesa and Ray (Chris’ parents). Kim & family stayed in their vanogen camper, named Albert, whereas the rest of us camped. Camping is luxurious here, as there is a restaurant, free showers, and wifi nearby.
For those of you not familiar with the park, Yellowstone is huge and it’s virtually impossible to see everything in just 3 days. However, Canyon offers a relatively central location that makes exploration easier. During our time we interspersed the mandatory “gapering” with some hiking and other more active outings. The term “gaper” refers to the tourists who stop and stare (aka gape) at any and every sight. Single bison? Stop the car. Herd of bison? Stop the car, probably in the road. Bull elk? Stop, stare, and point. Grizzly bear? Stop the car, get out, cross the street, and pretend their aggressive behaviors don’t exist as you take a selfie. You get the point. These gapers make travel through the park extremely difficult and time-intensive. If you get really bored, something fun to do is pull the car off at an actual pull-out – and point at something excitedly (preferably a rock-a-bear). Then get back into your car calmly as the ensuing traffic jam builds.
Despite the obtrusive gapering and long distances between sites, we managed to explore a large portion of the park. We did sunrise drives through the major “animal-spotting” valleys – Lamar and Hayden valley. During these tours we spotted too-many-to-count bison and elk, many antelope, and a wolf pack through a scope. Probably the most impressive sighting was the elusive “wolfelope”, when Chris spotted a darker animal interspersed with a group of antelope. He originally thought this to be a wolf and sprinted back to the car. However, when looking through our binoculars it was, in fact, a darker colored antelope. We also had many rock-a-bear sightings – it’s amazing what tricks your eyes can play when you want to spot animals!
Surprisingly, we were more successful with animal spotting during a daytime drive from Canyon to Mammoth. We saw a grizzly bear napping roadside, a wolf running through sage brush, and a mama bear with her cubs running through a stream. Kim & family also had a coyote put on a show and hang around for several minutes before prowling off to hunt. After these sightings, it was off to Mammoth Hot Springs. We walked around the crowded boardwalks that provide views for thermal pools and travertine terraces. This was followed up with a refreshing ice cream cone then back to the campground!
During our initial few days in Yellowstone we hiked a 6-mile trail to the summit of Mt. Washburn. This yielded amazing views of the surrounding mountains, including a preview of our favorite, the Tetons. Given how crowded the rest of the park is, this was a delightful reprieve from the tour buses and gapers – as the majority of people don’t ever set foot on a hiking trail.
We returned to the park for a day-trip from the dude ranch. During that visit we watched the eruption of both Old Faithful and Castle geysers and walked the boardwalks of the various thermal pools and features. No visit to Old Faithful is complete without a tour through Old Faithful Inn, perhaps the most beautiful hotel we’ve seen. Our final stop in Yellowstone was probably the most impressive – Grand Prismatic Spring. This thermal pool is the largest hot spring in the US and the third largest in the world! It was extremely windy which helped us to actually see the spring without the layers of steam sitting idly on top – and what an amazing view that was! Thanks to the wind, we also got to perform an umbrella-assisted rescue of Ray’s hat before it tumbled into the pool below.
Yellowstone is an incredibly unique park with some beautiful and some just flat-out-weird features. It’s a shame that inconsiderate tourists affect the park each year, and we hope that our favorite sites survive these careless acts.
Grand Teton National Park – Heart Six Dude Ranch
After Yellowstone we headed to Heart Six Guest Ranch, which sits in Moran, WY just outside of the park. This ranch dates back to the late 1800s when it served as a trapper hideout. After being homesteaded by the same trapper and his family, it was converted into a dude ranch in the 1920s. The Harris family owned the ranch for the past 30 years, until after the passing of Brian Harris it was sold to another entrepreneur just one month before our arrival. It was interesting to visit during this transitional time, but we had a great time nonetheless!
We spent 7 action-packed days at the ranch with Chris’ parents, sisters and their families. Our days were filled with horseback riding, hiking, biking, and eating lots of delicious comfort food. Given Chris’ horse allergy, he rode just one afternoon at the end of the trip (after medicating all week with antihistamine eye drops, Flonase, Prednisone, Albuterol and Zyrtec!). The rest of us did usually one half-day ride per day. We were assigned one horse for the week, with the exception of Michi and Sam who seemed to break their horse and need a new one each day. My horse was named Payroll and had a knack for snacking on grass when he was not supposed to. Each time I stopped him from eating, he would venture off trail and run me into a tree, a vicious form of payback! The rides each lasted for about 2 hours and were full of beautiful scenery (and many jokes about horse farts).
In addition to horseback riding, Chris, Sam and I brought our bikes in an effort to stay in cycling shape for upcoming rides. Unfortunately, Yellowstone is too crowded so we were not able to safely bike there. We did a longer ride in the Tetons from Signal Mountain, past Jenny Lake, to Moose and back. The up-close and personal views of the Tetons are so captivating – luckily we paid enough attention to the road to make it back safely! On other afternoons we did a quick ride through bear country up the Buffalo Valley Road near the ranch. I even rode with bear spray in my back pocket!
While my days were pretty full with horseback riding and biking, Chris managed to keep himself busy with alternative activities. He and Tesa did a hike through Death Canyon in the Tetons. Despite the name, it is a lovely hike that ascends past Phelps Lake and into a classic glacial canyon. Another full day was spent on a fly-fishing float trip on the nearby world famous Henry’s Fork of the Snake River in Idaho. This was Chris’ first time fly-fishing, and although he tied Ray for last in catch count – he had a blast!
The ranch offered various other activities, including the Yellowstone trip (as above). We went into Jackson Hole for an evening for a cookout and rodeo. The highlight of that night was Zoe running onto the field for a sheep chasing challenge (unfortunately there was no mutton busting!) We also spent a morning doing a scenic float trip down the Snake River in the Grand Teton National Park. Sadly, we saw no big wildlife, but we spotted plenty of bald eagles – a joy to Sam, the newest Birder!
The Teton area is one of our favorites in the country, and we try to plan a trip here each year. This one was more unique and special because we were able to spend it on a dude ranch with family – a fun activity for all but especially wonderful for kids! Yellowstone is definitely unique and exciting, but all of the crowds and driving makes it less desirable to us. In the end, Chris managed to survive his horse allergies and disdain for gapers, and we all had a great time.
Yellowstone: Canyon is a great campsite as it is central and can be reserved. The tent-only sites we had were pretty slanted and small. We also like Tower, but these sites are first-come, first-served. While in Yellowstone, take advantage of sunrise as it is the optimal time to spot animals and avoid the crowds.
Tetons: Come here, and come often. We got engaged at Jenny Lake and this park holds a special place in our hearts