Wednesday – Saturday, June 5-8 – Lake Yellowstone to Mount Rushmore and the Crazy Horse Memorial, and Back to Texas

Yellowstone Lake Hotel

We awoke on Wednesday to yet another bison exercising his rights to browse wherever he likes on the lawn beneath our window, and soon thereafter were back on the winding roads toward to the East Entrance to Yellowstone.  Fortunately, our route kept us on or near the shores of Lake Yellowstone, so we were able to enjoy that glorious expanse of calm blue water for the first half of our departure.

Once we arrived in Cody (and more specifically, at Granny’s for breakfast!) and fueled up the car, we blasted off across the state of Wyoming with the Mount Rushmore National Monument in our sights.  One of the amusing things about this trip has been the names of towns and landmarks that we have passed.  For example, between Lake Yellowstone and Mammoth we drove by Horsethief Lake and its accompanying Campground; sort of makes you wonder about the origin of that particular appellation!  And, while it’s fairly simple to figure out where the towns of Cody and Custer got their names, what on earth is the reason for calling a settlement Tensleep (Wyoming)?  More research is definitely needed in this regard…

The landscape continued to change from the mountains and forests of Yellowstone into one that seemed more in keeping with our conceptions of what Wyoming should look like – lots of broad plains surmounted by wide, brilliant blue skies.  But the closer we got to the South Dakota border, the rockier and steeper the verges of the road became as we began to climb again, this time into the Black Hills National Forest, home of Mount Rushmore.  We had to pass the Monument before arriving at our motel in Keystone, but this afforded us a glimpse from the road of those four colossal Presidential heads carved into the granite rockface.  


Mt. Rushmore
We had a comfortable night in Keystone (and saw our first television in almost a week in our room!) and, after a nice breakfast at the motel, made our way back up the road toward the Monument.  The facilities associated with this marvel have been wonderfully upgraded and expanded since my last visit; parking is great (and is the only fee one has to pay for access) and the grounds below the mountain are handsomely laid out, with more South Dakota granite underfoot and lining the walkway to the viewing point.  The flags of the fifty states border a promenade between the Visitors Center and the viewing platform, and below the overlook is a fully functional amphitheater for viewing presentations about the creation of the Monument, while also affording one the ability to consider Gutson and Lincoln Borglum’s handiwork at night illuminated by dramatically placed lighting.  (The Monument is open until 11:30 pm.)


The Promenade before Mt. Rushmore
It was still relatively early in the day when we took our leave of the Monument (although not before gracing yet another Gift Shop with our presence and our commerce!).  This time we were backtracking a bit to the city of Custer, home to the gargantuan undertaking started by Boston-born Korczak Ziolkowski in the 1940’s at the request of Lakota Chief Henry Standing Bear, a maternal cousin of the celebrated warrior immortalized in the sacred Black Hills.  In response to the Borglums’ efforts at Mount Rushmore, Chief Standing Bear wrote to Korczak, “My fellow chiefs and I would like the white man to know that the red man has great heroes also.”


Crazy Horse Memorial Sculpture
While this visit was not originally on our itinerary, we were both so happy that we took the time to stop at the Memorial.  We had both heard some vague things about this undertaking in the past but were astonished to see the scope of the Ziolkowski family’s vision in continuing what their patriarch had initiated.  There is so much more to the Memorial that just (!) the gigantic task of sculpting the mountain, including a spectacular display of artifacts in the tastefully and beautifully laid out Visitors Center/Museum.  The site is also the home of The Indian University of North America, another continuing joint endeavor of Chief Standing Bear and the Ziolkowskis in the current form of the Crazy Horse Memorial Foundation (crazyhorsememorial.org).


Crazy Horse Sculpture Design
We were able to take in a 22-minute film about Crazy Horse the man, the inception of the Memorial and the continuation of the vision for this multi-faceted campus.  There were also several different musical/dance performances to take in; the total effect of the time we spend here was one of awe and wonder at the strength of the imagination of two men from very different cultures and backgrounds who came together to immortalize not just a single warrior, but the entire nation of those who were here before the white man arrived on this continent.



Part of the Cultural Center at Crazy Horse Memorial
It was hard to tear ourselves away from the Memorial but, on the recommendation of one of the super-helpful folks at Mount Rushmore, we drove into Custer in search of the Black Hills Burger and Bun Company.  We were lucky enough to be seated right away in this tiny, bustling establishment, and both the service and the meal lived up to their reputations!  Then it was back to the motel past Crazy Horse and Mount Rushmore for a last look at each of these distinctively American marvels to pack for the mad dash south to Texas.

This being the final post about the entertaining aspects of our trip, I really don’t feel it is incumbent upon me to dive into the details of the two-day slog back to our home in Arlington!  Let it suffice for me to say that we did a lot of driving, especially on Friday from South Dakota to Salina, Kansas, and that we were thrilled to pull into our own driveway on Saturday afternoon.  

Gary has a ga-zillion photos that he is going through to post along with this narrative, and he has already started that daunting process.  So please keep checking back here to check out the visual side of our 4,000+ mile journey and, of course, feel free to leave any comments you would like.  Thank you very much for traveling along with us!

Tuesday, June 4 – Mammoth to Lake Yellowstone


The day we departed what is perhaps the steamiest section of the Park was as beautiful and sunny as the previous day had been overcast and rainy.  On the way out of Mammoth, we stopped briefly at the elevated plateau that is home to its Springs to take pictures of the Liberty Cap, a now dormant hot spring cone, and the Palette Spring.  Given the information we had received about the Morning Glory Pool’s deterioration due to mindless human activity, and the fact that this once resplendent Park feature is at the very and highest and farthest point of the trail through the many Springs, we opted out of the trek to view it.



Mammoth Springs
But one of the most fascinating aspects of Mammoth is that this location is one where the continuing sculpting of the face of the Yellowstone Caldera can be witnessed on an ongoing basis, rather than over the millions of years that led to the current Park’s appearance.  It is as if one is allowed to glimpse a moment in time, and to feel the enormity of the never-ending process of the Earth’s evolution.

On the way south to Lake Yellowstone we were able to stop again at the scenic overlooks of the Lower Falls of the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, so that Gary would have the opportunity to get shots on his camera to replace the ones that were so over-exposed.  The gorgeous day lent itself admirably to this activity, and we came away with marvelous substitutions – stayed tuned to this location for the proof!


Lower Yellowstone Falls
However, before regaining the more publicized falls, we joined other travelers at the Tower Falls Overlook, just south of the Roosevelt Lodge.  While it was a bit of a hike from the parking area, it was definitely worth it!  These Falls are also a component of the Yellowstone River, tucked away at a lower elevation than their more famous siblings in a beautifully wooded side canyon. On the way out of the Tower location, we saw a large number of vacationers with a Park Ranger arrayed along the side of the road; what had drawn them there?  An adorable baby bear across the thoroughfare had captured their attention; one can only wonder why Mama Bear had left her little one alone to be the source of such unforgettable entertainment for humans!


Tower Falls
We wound our way back through Canyon Village and past the road to Fishing Bridge, which is being totally repaved, to our destination, the gracious and picturesque Lake Yellowstone Hotel.  Even though we had originally booked a cabin, the Hotel so captivated us that we asked for, and luckily were able to obtain, an upgrade to the main building.  Our wonderful check-in agent Jan gifted us with a room on the 4th floor on the Lake side of the Hotel, so that we would be able to experience the lake view above the trees that grace the front of the edifice.  (Yes, this lodging DOES have an elevator – I adore Nature but thank God for the benefits of the Industrial Resolution!)  Jan also set me up with a key to the Hotel’s Business Center so I could attend to some urgent WW business that lack of adequate WiFi had precluded.  She will never know how much she was able to lower my stress level by making this resource available!

Among the terrific folks we have encountered on this trip, I have to mention the bellmen who assisted us at Lake Yellowstone.  Bob jumped up to help us get situated even though he wasn’t supposed to be on the clock, and even went the extra mile to get us ice while we settled in.  Bradley, the young biomedical sciences graduate who came to fetch our stuff early on Wednesday morning, was a fabulous source of info about the Lake and its surrounding mountains (one of which he has climbed!) and, perhaps more importantly, where to get the best breakfast in Cody, Wyoming.

But I am getting ahead of myself!  We had a relaxing lunch in the expansive dining room after first scoping out the Gift Shop (priorities must be observed at all times).  The view of the Lake from our table, across a recently vacated table through a crystal-clear window, was simply idyllic.  As we dined, our conversation led us to decide that, if we ever are able to return to Yellowstone, we will make the Lake Hotel our base of operations and simply drive to the different points of interest from there.

After lunch, I returned to our room to work on previous days of this narrative, although I have to admit that it was difficult to concentrate as my worktable was adjacent to the wide-open window.  Fresh air, a gorgeous view and the ability to people-watch from on high made the task of composition hard to focus on.  Gary went down to the Lake overlook to get some more photos that you will be able to enjoy here over the coming days and weeks.  However, after he had been gone for almost 3 hours, I was starting to get a little concerned.  Just as I was rising from my chair to go look for him, he opened the door to our room; upon returning from his photo excursion, he had been engaged in a wide-ranging conversation with a fellow Hotel guest in the sunroom and having a marvelous time!


Yellowstone Lake Hotel Lounge
Dining Room Yellowstone Lake Hotel
Yellowstone Lake

We returned to the sunroom to hang out and met some fun folks who were there on a Tauck bus tour.  The couple with whom we spent the most time were North Carolina transplants originally from New Jersey, and we enjoyed an hour trading travel tales with them before their dinner reservation took them away from us.  After about another half hour of bathing in the glow of the late-afternoon sun on the calm waters of the Lake, we headed back to the room.  We wish that we could have more time in this tranquil spot, but there is a schedule to keep – we are off to cross the state of Wyoming tomorrow on our way to South Dakota and Mount Rushmore!

Monday, June 3 – Through the Heart of Yellowstone to Mammoth Springs

Forest Fire remains
Bidding farewell to Old Faithful, we were back on the road going east along the West Thumb past Grant Village to the road that would skirt the shores of Yellowstone Lake and parallel the course of the Yellowstone River past the magnificent Upper and Lower Falls of the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone.  Lots more winding roadway, ascents and descents, and the occasional stop, not for a photo op, but for road repair.  Of course, there were numerous scenic turnouts along the way, and we took advantage of them for picture-taking as well.

After passing the Bridge Bay Marina on our way to the Falls, we descended into Hayden Valley, home to lots of elk, buffalo and at least one bear that Gary saw streaking across a meadow.  One of the most astonishing things about Yellowstone is the enormous diversity of landscapes contained within the boundaries of the Park.  The thoroughfares, with a maximum speed limit of 45 mph, are well designed to encourage the traveler to absorb as much of this variety as possible; we are extremely fortunate to live in an age where taking videos from one’s cell phone in a moving car is a commonplace luxury!


Lower Falls Canyon
But there was a major disappointment in store for us, as the road that would normally lead one to the North Rim viewpoint of the Upper Falls was closed!  These are the falls that everyone sees in scenes from Yellowstone, falling hundreds of feet down a spectacular cliff face to end in a huge cloud of mist before continuing the River’s journey down the Canyon toward the Lake.  The Lower Falls, while not as overwhelming as their upstream counterpart, still provide glorious views of the River and the Canyon, as well the opportunity (if one is lucky) to spy one of the ospreys that nests in the Canyon’s walls.

After making three halts at the various lookout points for the Lower Falls, we were back on our quest for Mammoth Springs and the cabin that Gary had booked for us there.  This took us past Canyon Village to the Norris Geyser Basin, where we turned north to our day’s destination.  As we neared the Springs, the skies were darkening above us with the promise of the rain we had seen in the forecast.  But this again provided a backdrop that caused the colors of the trees and the stone outcroppings to literally pop in contrast to the steely skies.


Mammoth Springs Hotel
The traffic as one makes the final descent to the Mammoth Hotel, down the hill from the Springs themselves, would be a challenge for even the most seasoned urban commuter!  Cars, campers of all sizes, pedestrians, elk, even a FedEx delivery van, all clamor for your attention while you scan the roadside for someone vacating one of the prize parking spots across the road from the Hotel and the General Store.

It was only a little after 1:00 pm when we pulled into the circle fronting the Hotel, so it was no surprise that our cabin wouldn’t be ready until sometime after 4:00.  This gave us time to get on the waiting list for lunch at the detached Dining Room, which was about 35 minutes.

A few words here about Xanterra, the company which manages the all the lodging in Yellowstone.  Their services run the gamut from terrific to second-rate, and the main problem seems to be linked to understaffing.  Every Inn or Hotel we have stayed in here has been almost completely booked, and yet when we have eaten in the Dining Room associated with each hotel (especially for breakfast and lunch), diners have been seated in only half of the room due to a lack of servers.  It’s hard to imagine that the company can’t hire sufficient staff to serve the hordes of visitors that come here, especially as one has to make a reservation to stay in the Park about a year in advance.  This is by no means a reflection on the staff members themselves; they are, to a man/women, some of the most personable and accommodating folks one would ever have the good fortune to meet, but their efforts are hampered by less than stellar upper management.

After lunch (which was very much worth the wait!), we headed to the omnipresent General Store to scope out their offerings, then back to the Gift Shop in the Hotel proper.  We were able to check in a little earlier than we had thought, but were met with the news that there was not WiFi in our cabin, only in the main hotel and the Dining Room area.  Add to that the fact that the connection that WAS available was super-slow, and therefore of no use in posting to the blog or accessing work-related internet functions.  (Yes, I know, it’s a vacation, but I have some things going on with WW that require some attention sooner rather than later…)


Our Cabin at Mammoth Spring


We were able to park right next to our nice little cabin – no stairs to contend with!  After unpacking what we needed and settling in, we began perusing the day’s photos, only to discover that something had caused all of the shots Gary had taken with his good camera – including the beautiful ones at the Lower Falls – to be over-exposed and of no use whatsoever!  However, we will have to cover some of the same ground on our way tomorrow, so we will have another chance to recapture some of those lost images.

Determining to stop at the Springs in the morning before leaving for our last day in the Park at Lake Yellowstone Hotel, we made the decision to retire early (at least Gary went to sleep earlier than I did; my brain was racing, so the few gaming apps in my phone that weren’t dependent upon internet kept me entertained until I was ready to give it up.)


More later!

Sunday, June 2 – The Upper and Lower Geyser Basins


Old Faithful Inn at Yellowstone National Park
We arose to find a sunny, blue-sky-with-fluffy-clouds day and a temperature of about 42° - perfection!  After a leisurely breakfast in the Lodge’s enormous dining room, it was up to the outdoor porch on the mezzanine level to view the promised eruption of the Lodge’s namesake at approximately 10:18 am.  The wooden benches had already been warmed by the morning sun, and the geyser started its performance at about 10:15, which lasted a little over 4 minutes.  Just about the time Old Faithful was subsiding, another geyser (Beehive Geyser) in the Upper Basin began a competitive outburst, which lasted slightly longer and appeared to be a bit more forceful in its output.


Old Faithful Geyser


On the walk to the Upper Basin
From our perch on the mezzanine porch, we ambled over to the Lower and Upper Geyser Basins, which are located across the Firehole River from the Lodge.  Gary found himself a bench at the base of this sulphurous panorama while I decided to take the elevated wooden walkway across the river and up into the mysterious realm of richly colored hot pools and steaming, bubbling geysers of all shapes and sizes.  One of the attractions of this area closest to the Lodge is Morning Glory Pool which, unfortunately, has lost some of its glory due to Park visitors ignorantly throwing debris into it over the years.  I never cease to be amazed and confounded by the power and persistence of human stupidity…




On the walk to the Upper Basin and the Beehive Geyser
Not wanting to leave Gary sitting for too long by himself, I covered about half of the Upper Basin walk while capturing long-range images of the equally active and misty Lower Basin, then decided to return to where I could see him in conversation with various other sojourners in this other-worldly locale.  On my way to and from the Basin I passed by a sleeping bison, who remained blissfully oblivious to the hikers who were discussing and photographing him.


We hung out at Gary’s bench for a while with three generations of a family of fellow travelers who were waiting to see Old Faithful blow its top from a different vantage point.  Hoping to see a repeat of this morning’s double feature, we stayed a while after the 11:40 eruption, but it was not to be.  We didn’t find out until later that the Beehive Geyser only erupts about every 24 hours, whereas Old Faithful keeps a more tourist-friendly schedule of going off about every 90 minutes.

Once again, taking our sweet old time, we wended our way back along a less stair-intensive route to the room to check out the morning’s pictures and videos.  Our next stop was the Old Faithful General Store, with its wares that varied somewhat from those in the Gift Shop.  The solitary bison from my morning geyser constitutional had managed to make his way over to the lawn between the Lodge and the Store, where he was again attracting the attention of everyone in sight.  These hulking creatures appear calm and gentle, but the tourist is well advised to keep his/her distance; a lady who welcomed us to the store informed us that she had seen this older bull easily hop the 2-foot high log fence shortly before we came upon him.  In fact, when we came out of the Inn a little later in the day to get a start on loading up the car for the morning’s departure, we were forced to retrace our steps and find another exit, as he had taken up a position too near the sidewalk for comfort.  Two rangers were stationed close by to ensure that no overly curious sightseer infringed on his space.

After our efficiency excursion to the car, lunchtime found us back in the Inn’s spacious dining room before heading to the room for a brief nap.  Then it was time for a last visit to the Lobby, the Gift Shop and the Snack Shop for a scoop of moose tracks (what else?) ice cream!  

(To my WW readers, I have been tracking everything I eat on this trip in the Notes on my phone, as there are times when WiFi either isn’t available or, when it is, isn’t fast enough to allow me to track in my WW app.  But I do have a record of everything…)

Heading north to Mammoth Springs in the morning – More later!

Friday, May 31 to Saturday, June 1 – Moab to Yellowstone via Brigham City and the Grand Tetons

Moab Utah Diner
We lit out of Moab fairly early after one last meal at the Moab CafĂ©, and were immediately caught up in an extension of the marvels of Arches as we headed north through Utah.  The predominantly red rock formations gave way to paler and paler hues, until we found ourselves once again tooling across the flat, sandy expanse reminiscent of the proto-Mexican desert.

Once in Brigham City, we made a stop at the ubiquitous Wally World for some better socks to deal with Gary’s elevation-provoked foot swelling, and were given a recommendation for a late lunch by the young lady who checked us out.  After a great meal at J&D’s (we don’t who J was, but the D stands for Donna, who had her own parking spot in the back), we headed back to the hotel to reconfigure our bags for the three-day stay in Yellowstone.


Bear Lake
After a great night’s sleep, we were back on the road to Yellowstone.  First we navigated a circuitous route up toward the Continental Divide, then descended along a similarly torturous road back down into a gorgeous valley that is the home of Bear Lake.  Of course, it wasn’t all that simple!  There were numerous stops to photograph the ever-changing landscape, which had metamorphosed once again from the arid wasteland to the tall pine forests that escorted the Snake River along its winding path.
Both the Lake and the community of Bear Lake are extremely appealing, giving rise to thoughts of retirement complete with exquisite water and mountain views and the requisite sports that one finds in such an idyllic locale.  But then we got to pondering that sign we had seen when departing Brigham City, indicating that snow tires or chains are REQUIRED from November 1 through March 31; maybe we’re not quite ready to leave Texas just yet…



Beautiful Tetons
We began ascending again after briefly crossing into Idaho and then arriving in Jackson, Wyoming, the gateway to Grand Teton National Park.  Jackson has grown enormously in the 30+ years since I last visited it, but the town square is still the center of activity for tourists and locals alike.  Each of its four corners is crowned by an archway made entirely of elk horns, which conduct those in the square toward a multitude of eclectic shops housed in buildings whose architecture still recall the town’s rustic beginnings.


Jackson Hole town center
After a super pizza and salad lunch at a local hangout called Sidewinder’s, it was time for more “oohs” and “ahs” as we arrived in the Grand Teton Park.  This youngest mountain range on the North American continent is magnificent in a rugged, uncompromising way, with glaciers reaching up to its peaks and soil enough on its gradients to allow the encroaching pine forest to stretch its territory only halfway to the craggy summits.  An expansive green plain below the range is picturesquely inhabited by a large herd of bison.  The Tetons are an apt symbol for the energetic, brash nation that was forged on this continent, whose citizens learned the value of protecting these remembrances of our wilderness heritage.


Buffalo Country
From the valley of the Tetons we began our final ascent for the day to the high table that is the home of Yellowstone National Park.  As we wound our way into the interior of the Park, we were surprised to see snow on the ground among the trees, and piled as high as four feet along the edges of the 2-lane road leading us to Old Faithful Inn high in the geyser basin.  The only wildlife we observed on the way in was a small group of elk along with the darting black-and-white jays who are native to this region.


Old Faithful Inn
Old Faithful Inn is situated, as you might guess, adjacent to the Geyser of the same name.  It is a log house on a MASSIVE scale and, when we entered its cathedral-like lobby a little after 5:00 pm, it was absolutely swarming with new arrivals like ourselves.   After checking in we discovered again that our room was accessible only by traversing numerous stairs, but it at least had its own bathroom (the room we had originally reserved had a shared bathroom down the hall!).

By the time we had finished the process of getting our things to the room, we were ready to just park ourselves somewhere.  Presiding over the main lobby is a mountainous stone fireplace soaring to the ceiling four floors above, encircled by inviting leather chairs and rockers.  We betook ourselves there to unwind after the day’s drive and to people watch while making plans for Sunday’s activities.  There was live music from a pianist and cellist on the mezzanine level, but the selections, although expertly played, seemed a bit out of character for the surroundings.  

Once we were able to pry ourselves out of our cushy seats, we ventured outside again to check out the quiet of the evening by Old Faithful, where a solitary large bison was emceeing the geyser’s recently concluded evening presentation.   Before making the trek back to our room, we went to explore the gift shop and the snack shop, where we bought a few mementos and some ice cream.
Off to the Geyser Basin Trail tomorrow, after a morning view of the Old Faithful Show!