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.
|The Promenade before Mt. Rushmore|
|Crazy Horse Memorial Sculpture|
|Crazy Horse Sculpture Design|
|Part of the Cultural Center at Crazy Horse Memorial|
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!
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|
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|
|Forest Fire remains|
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|
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|
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.)
|Old Faithful Inn at Yellowstone National Park|
|Old Faithful Geyser|
|On the walk to the Upper Basin|
|On the walk to the Upper Basin and the Beehive Geyser|
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!
|Moab Utah Diner|
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.
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…
|Jackson Hole town center|
|Old Faithful Inn|
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!