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This is a guest post from my dad, Grandpa Points. He and my mom are in their mid-60’s, are (mostly) retired, and are ticking off “bucket list” destinations quicker than they ever thought possible thanks to miles, points, and travel deals. They have an intense love of this country, of its National Parks and treasures, and have no problem with a clean budget hotel room and an economy airline seat on a low-cost airline as long as it gets them where they want to be. A photographer by trade he often tells his story not just with his words, but with his images. Today he brings us a story from another one of their adventures…
We live in a world of rapid and rampant change where renovation, reconstruction, remodel, redirection, renewal, repurposing and recalculating “R” the buzz words that lead us all to a new and improved world of excitement, comfort, and trendy updates. As they say, if you aren’t going forward, you are going backward. Time waits for no man. As an example, we have found that if you don’t buy a new car every two or three years you probably won’t be able to keep up with the advancing technology, and even working the radio becomes problematic. Another example is Las Vegas. If you don’t go frequently, you won’t recognize the place. Change is good, right?
In most instances, we have no choice except to go along for the ride on the highway of life and its whirlwind of transitions. However, sometimes, actually many times, we need to grab hold of something fundamental and real to reground ourselves and to remind ourselves that there is something very valuable in timelessness and naturalness. I can think of no better place to satisfy this need or exemplify this condition than Yellowstone National Park, a land for all time.
In Yellowstone, time and change are frequently measured and referenced by thousands, hundreds of thousands, and millions of years. Significant and notable alterations in the current or past landscape only occur with and when an event of epic proportion either erupts, shakes, chills or heats the environment. Otherwise, what you are privileged to see is what your ancestors have seen and what your successors will enjoy.
We were again able to be a part of this experience, this land called Yellowstone, a few weeks ago.
We chose late September/early October as our travel dates because it has become one of our favorite traveling periods. The crowds are smaller, it is often more economical, the temperature has dropped, snow is a cool possibility and the colors of the fall greet you with open arms. The downside is the real possibility of plan altering wintry weather, packing bulkier clothing and the realization that certain tourist services may be closed or minimized for the season.
Yellowstone, as well as the gorgeous Grand Teton National Park, is like a whole ‘nother country. It is big and diverse. It is calm and explosive. It is mountain snows and thermal hot springs. It is plentiful forests and wide-open valleys. It is a human drive-thru in the home of the bear, the wolf, the elk and the eagle. It is rivers and streams and lava and rocks. It is a lake of blue that mirrors the sky and it is roaring waterfalls still carving the land. It is the Disney World of nature.
Dawn was kissing our plane’s window making it look as though it was stained glass as we began our journey to Jackson, Wyoming, via Denver. We booked these flights from Houston – Denver – Jackson on a United saver award for 12,500 United miles per ticket.
After two short legs, we were flying parallel to the Grand Tetons as we descended into the small but beautiful Jackson airport.
It was exciting to deplane onto the tarmac with such a magnificent backdrop. It felt very old school, uniquely special and was a perfect way to set our feet onto the State of Wyoming.
We awoke in Jackson the next morning to a light dusting of snow that seemed an ideal welcoming gift for our crew of snow deprived Texans. We first stopped at the famous Chapel of the Transfiguration. It seamlessly blends into the atmosphere and the environment of the Tetons and its iconic picture window frames the mountains perfectly. There is tranquility, reverence, contemplation, and awe found there. It is more than a chapel, it is a symbol.
Mommy Points Tip: There are a variety of points-friendly hotel options in the Jackson Hole area, including the new Spring Hill Suites that is reviewed here.
Mormon Row was next up on our roadmap. There we found old farmhouses and barns that were once at the core of a vibrant community. Now, they are mostly well-preserved photo stops and photo ops that we found beautiful and rewarding and very much pure Wyoming. The tall natural grasses and the wooden fences were the perfect embellishment to this rustic and pastoral setting.
As we drove further north, the snow depth from the previous week’s storm got deeper and deeper as we climbed higher and higher. The Continental Divide sign became a winter wonderland must have photo for almost every car that passed by and beautiful small ponds became ice-covered jewels.
The speed limit in The Parks is a posted 45 MPH but I would venture to say the effective and actual miles per hour we traveled was about 10mph or less due to the scenery, points of interest, animal sightings and photo moments. If you are in a hurry, you may miss what you came to see.
The wonders of YNP are accessed by driving the Grand Loop Road road that makes a figure eight through the Park with spokes extending to each of the Park’s entrances. There are intersections and services every 15 to 20 miles on the road to help you plan ahead with your travel itinerary. The Loop is your passport to all things Yellowstone and we got our passport stamped with awesome sights and experiences from dawn to dusk.
This magic blacktop carpet ride, of course, led us to all the iconic “must see” attractions that Yellowstone is known for including Old Faithful, Grand Prismatic Springs, Lake Yellowstone, The Grand Canyon of Yellowstone, Mammoth Hot Springs and the Upper and Lower Falls are all directly accessed by simply following the road.
But, it is the random sightings of a bear on a hillside, a coyote on your trail, a herd of buffalo crossing the road, a bull elk bugling to his ladies and a bighorn sheep standing like a statue that causes cars to pull over, cameras to be readied, eyes to be in scanning mode and fingers to be pointing.
Wildlife sightings are like winning lottery tickets. You know there’s a chance, but you are always surprised and thrilled when luck is on your side.
And, while at times, opportunity serendipitously comes your way, sometimes you have to work for your reward. Such was the case when a pre-dawn visit to The Lower Falls on a 26-degree frosty morning resulted not only in a very rewarding and successful personal and photographic experience at the falls but also garnered a glorious capture of the morning sun in the dense and rising steam of the river below. The rich and warm colors seemed otherworldly and the moment was one I will not soon forget.
With its white, glazed mineral coated surface intermixed with plumes and clouds of steam, Mammoth Hot Springs looked like fire and ice fighting for king-of-the-hill status. I really appreciated how the appearance of the layered and plateaued creation made me think of how Iceland must look with its natural extremes side by side confronting each other.
Lamar Valley is located in the northeast corner of The Park on the road to and from the Northeast Park Entrance. I would suspect many visitors would skip or miss this area as it seems to take you away from the heart of the civilized action. And it does, which is a great thing. Lamar Valley is like a Garden of Eden for wildlife and is home to a breathtaking and healthy environment and landscape.
The valley floor is wide and expansive with the Lamar River flowing beautifully and nourishingly through its heart.
This is where you will most likely see coyotes and antelope and elk and buffalo and bears and wolves interacting in their natural domain. Visibility is measured in miles and excitement in exclamation points.
Another special sight likely missed is the famous Roosevelt Arch that is actually just past the North Entrance.
It was originally the only entrance as trains would bring tourists to Cinnabar and Gardiner, Montana, and the visitors would then crowd into large horse-drawn stagecoaches and pass through the arch on their way to visit The Park. The Arch is about 10 minutes north of Mammoth Hot Springs and the small but thriving town of Gardiner offers many restaurants, motels, gas stations and shops to serve the area. In fact, you can even stay there on points at places like the Comfort Suites Yellowstone North.
Another fun point of interest on the road to The Arch is the sign designating a halfway point between the Equator and The North Pole. We didn’t know if we should wear shorts or a jacket or chill out or layer up.
Yellowstone can be described with many superlatives, adjectives, adverbs and with a thousand of word choices. But, one word seems to truly fit, ALIVE. We are glad to report, YNP is alive and well.
We were happy and thrilled with our five-day Yellowstone visit and as The Lovin’ Spoonfuls once sang, “you didn’t have to be so nice, we would have liked you anyway”…
From Grandpa Points to the Grandpa of National Parks, good job. Really good job.
Safe travels to all!
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