It was Lyn’s idea to begin with. “We need to take a road trip,” she said in July. “Maybe up to the park or somewhere in September.”
We took a look at our calendars. As luck would have it, I was available for exactly two weekends and so was she. But the opposite weekends. So, we settled for a plan B during Labor Day weekend.
However, one of my weekends opened up and I let her know. “I already made plans,” she explained with a sad emoticon to demonstrate how she felt.
She already made plans I guess that’s that…but wait, I’ve heard fall is the time to really enjoy the park. Maybe I should go after all. Yes, I think I will.
And so, on that weekend that sort of opened up for me, I made plans to go to Yellowstone National Park. In September. Later in the year than I ever have before.
As I always do, I put it out in the “out there” that I was heading up if anyone wanted to join me. Leaving on Friday and returning on Sunday turned most people away because of the distance and time factor.
But dad wanted to go. Probably partly due to the fact he knew I’d go by myself if nobody else wanted to come. And also because with two surgeries, he had been rather cooped up for the summer.
My coworkers thought it was nice of me to take my dad up since he didn’t get to enjoy his summer much.
Uh, sure, that sounds good.
My friends thought it was nice of me to take my dad for his eightieth birthday next month.
Um, yeah. That’s what I’m doing.
I made a reservation at West Yellowstone’s KOA. And then I watched the weather. My coworkers also watched it with me. A week before the trip I received this on my timeline:
Most of Wyoming was under a winter storm watch.
Daily I checked the forecast for Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. Mid-sixties to low seventies. I can live with that just no more snow, please.
I planned our route. Instead of making a loop and driving through Idaho to get to West Yellowstone I decided to head straight up. Through Grand Teton National Park into Yellowstone’s south entrance and drive past Old Faithful to the west gate.
It was a good, good plan. I had never witnessed the Grand Tetons in the fall. The pictures I took with my point and click iPhone do not give justice to the colors we saw. I highly recommend this route during this time of year (sans snow). Trust me on this.
We arrived in Yellowstone during the afternoon and found out at the gate we were being detoured from our planned route. The road between West Thumb and Old Faithful was closed. We would have to go up to Canyon Village and then over. Which meant we were going to see half the park and arrive at our KOA much later than anticipated. What time did the KOA say they close in the off-season? I couldn’t remember but I had a feeling it was earlier than in the summer. There was a non-refundable deposit at stake here people and I may have ignored a few traffic signs in my angst. We also didn’t stop for a herd of elk enjoying dinner in a meadow. I saw them in my rear view mirror though so I’m good.
We arrived at the KOA a little after 7 (we had till 9) and got settled. The campsite still more or less filled up throughout the evening. Most people were out enjoying the brisk fall air around campfires. I opted to turn up the space heater inside the cabin and watch movies on my computer that I had brought. We all camp our different ways – there is nothing wrong with it.
We spent the whole next day in the park. Normally, I like to do the loop all the way around but there were two road closures affecting this. You could still see everything in the park, you just had to do a little backtracking in a couple of places.
Because of this, we found some places we never noticed before like the Firehole swimming area. Next time, I’m coming better prepared to enjoy this little fun treasure.
We saw elk, mule deer, a wolf, some kind of water creature (otter?), big birds (not yellow and six feet tall), something in a tree everyone was looking and pointing at but we couldn’t get close enough to see, and bison. Lots and lots of bison.
We didn’t always stop to look at the bison because I have seen them all summer long at other places. At one time they were endangered but I don’t think that’s the case anymore. It would be a pretty soft gig to be an American bison these days. It seems they like to eat (I can do that!), sleep (check!), and poop (it’s only natural, folks). Not a bad way to spend a day. I’ll let people take pictures of me as I eat and sleep all day. No big deal.
The next day we went to church in West Yellowstone and then headed for home. Once again, making the trip through the park to Canyon Village and then dropping down and leaving through the south exit.
We made a few stops in Grand Teton National Park along the way.
We were about 100 miles away from home when it started to rain. Not too bad. It was just a drizzle and it was still light enough to see. However, about 40 miles away from home it was dark and the rain beat down. I could hardly see. I focused on the white and yellow lines to keep my car in check. And really, the more I think about it, there has to be a purpose for either dad or I to still be around because I’m sure there have been accidents in similar circumstances. I’m not trying to be dramatic, I’m just saying it’s amazing the same conditions can cause an accident with a fatality at one time or it can help another person’s faith grow stronger during another time.
We arrived home at 9:00 Sunday night. I took Monday off from work because I had a feeling I’d be a little tired. Smart girl!
Here’s my soapbox: I confess we stayed in West Yellowstone. I don’t like to though. It’s a beautiful place and the people are friendly enough. But the park itself is in Wyoming with only a small sliver of it is in Montana. In fact, from the gas station in West Yellowstone through the park’s west entrance to the Wyoming border is 2.6 miles. Like I said, a sliver. That being said, why did we stay in Montana and not Wyoming? Because I can afford KOA’s. And there are only two in the vicinity to choose from. There is the West Yellowstone KOA in Montana and a Cody KOA in Cody Wyoming – 50 miles from the east entrance. As Bubba and I discovered during the last trip, that’s a bit too far to travel after sightseeing all day.
Here are some tips to consider if you want to take this trip (and why wouldn’t you now?):
1) invite a senior citizen to join you. Make sure your guest has a “Senior Citizen Pass” card to the national parks and a picture ID. Grand Teton National park cost $25. Yellowstone also cost $25. Traveling with my dad saved me $50. Um, and it was totally fun also, of course. I probably should have mentioned that perk first.
2) pack as many meals as possible. Sure, you will want to enjoy a meal at the park but it’s really overpriced (shock!) and there are so many picnic places to eat along the way you really don’t need to. And if you do buy a meal at the Old Faithful Cafe be prepared to pay a “Utility Surcharge” along with taxes.
3) look up to see if there are any road closures in the park before you go. It may affect your plans.
4) get a map beforehand and get an idea of ‘top spots’ you want to visit. Then be flexible when those plans don’t work out or something else pops up. Keep in mind, the top speed is only 45mph. It drops down to 25 around intersections and crowded spots. And if there is a recent “sighting” the traffic may be backed up.
5) take a decent camera. An iPhone camera with its point and click is not useful when you need to adjust aperture settings. Take it from me, it’s embarrassing when you line up with all the photographers and their telephoto lenses. And just look at my pictures. Pretty? Yeah, but not exactly what I saw. Don’t forget a pair of binoculars (which I always do).
6) go in the fall. You won’t beat the crowds but the colors are brilliant and the animals are more likely to be out (except the bison… I think you can see them anytime)
7) Enjoy! And do share your experiences.
Here are some of mine: