Yellowstone Or Bust!
Maiden Voyage to Yellowstone
Living in California, I am very blessed to have such magnificent beauty right in our own backyard: Yosemite National Park and Half Dome, the pristine deep blue waters of Lake Tahoe, San Francisco Bay and the renowned Golden Gate Bridge, Pebble Beach Golf Course near the sleepy and romantic town of Carmel, the famed Seventeen Mile Drive south of Monterey Bay, the glacier carved canyons and gorges in the Sierra Nevadas, the sexy beaches of Southern California, the placid and relaxing cities of Santa Barbara north to Morro Bay (Central Coast), and the frigid and rough waters and Redwoods along the Pacific in Mendicino, we have some immense resources and beauty in our state.
Why would anyone want to leave this state? I'm amazed at how many places I haven't been to even though I've lived here most of my life.
But as the old saying goes, "the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence." So off I went last summer to Yellowstone National Park.
United States Attractions
Many believe that you have to travel thousands of miles outside our country to visit foreign shores to see beauty. However, our country has some phenomenal resources and parks that are right in our own backyard. I know many people who live in California that have never visited Yosemite, one of the most intriguing parks in our arsenal!
One of my best friends, Dan, his wife Merry and their son Nick, bought an RV a few years ago. I thought they were crazy since towing one of those monolithic superstructures can be quite daunting for the novice RV driver like myself.
However, off he went and bought a gigantic RV. To pull that monstracity, you have to own a very serious truck that can pull it! So as you can imagine, he purchased a big truck, complete with the 4-wheel drive and towing package. You probably get gallons-to-the-mile instead of miles-to-the-gallon.
Irrespective of that fact, he invited my wife and I to go on our first RV trip with them to a campsite called Costanoa, a very romantic getaway around 30 miles north of Santa Cruz along the Scenic Highway 1 coastline. This highway runs north and south along the incredible coastline of the Pacific. At Costanoa, during the night, you can hear the huge waves breaking on the beach. This is good therapy for weary souls! Despite some rather scary moments of learning how to pull an RV, I managed to make it into the RV park unscathed
As fate would dictate the terms, Dan mentioned to me months after our Costanoa trip about a possible trip to Yellowstone with he and his family. I knew at this point I had been set up. I should have seen it coming and should have known my best friend of 40 years had plans way before he had asked me to go to Yellowstone. I was like an animal stepping into a noose.
So here we were, December 2009, making reservations at RV parks along the way to Yellowstone that would encompass states of Nevada, parts of Oregon, Idaho, Wyoming and Montana
Departure for Yellowstone
We almost went "bust" as we left California enroute to Yellowstone but we managed to get there all in one piece. One thing that went "bust" was the weather. I've never seen so much rain in my life. We went last the weekend in May, Memorial Weekend, and as soon as school was out, I picked up my kids, packed them in the truck like sardines, and off we went. Our goal was to make it through Sacramento before rush hour traffic set in. We did manage to get through, and before you know it, we were headed east up I-80 to Reno Nevada. At the top of the pass, we encountered weather, rain, low clouds and cold temperatures. This would prove to be a harbinger of things to come. But we we were free, off work, out of school and on the road to Yellowstone. As far as I knew, it was a mythical place too far for me to realize, especially as we trudged on with our RV following "Dan and company."
Now RV'ing is quite an adventurous, especially as it relates to the male "psyche". It's all about the destination, not the journey! My wife doesn't relate to this built in compass that drives me. One of the great things that I learned about trekking across America in an RV, is that it refueled the kid in me, something that's been missing for years. The adventure and everything that goes into the trip, created for me a passion for conquering something.
The trip was surreal and the beauty was overwhelming. Jackson Lake in the Grand Tetons, the Jackson Lodge and surrounding wilderness, Coulter Bay and the views of the whole Teton Range, were all much needed respite and rejuvination for the weary travellers from California. These sites offered us a glimpse of God's handiwork and the backdrop could almost pass as a postcard, something you see only in pictures. But no, we were there and we were loving it.
After Coulter Bay, we went north into Yellowstone on a bumpy old, unpaved road that was being worked on. Dodging potholes filled with water, mud and rock obstacles, we forged on.
As we reached the park entrance to Yellowstone, we were giddy with expectation. We made our way throught he park the first day and headed west to the west park entrance, staying at Grizzley RV Park in West Yellowstone Montana.
This town is minutes from the park entrance and allowed easy access to and from the park. Typically, we would plan our day-trips from West Yellowstone and target certain areas of the park. Too much driving can be self-defeating as one feels like the whole day is wasted in the car.
It can be a lot of driving and the beauty and the immense wilderness that has been preserved leaves you with an appreciation for this great park. Additionally, it's a way to almost "look back" into history. Other than the roads, it appears that much hasn't changed over the last 100 years.
The wildlife in the park includes bears, coyotes, wolves, Bald Eagles, hawks, Bison, elk, deer, fox and many other animals. Many of the animals are busy scampering around looking for food after an exhausting Winter in the park.
The natural hot springs, geysers, Old Faithful, the smell of sulphur (whew!), wild rivers, water falls, vistas, mountain views and old lodgings, all were part of the reward of the long travels through the states.
The skies are much clearer, much more blue, than the skies we see in California. There's something different about the rocky mountain states that's different than our state. One most noticeable difference is the lack of people. Compared to our state, there's just not a lot of human beings. In fact, it seemed like we saw more wildlife than people.
Another huge difference is the roads and the lack of potholes (other than the 80 mile stretch from Coulter Bay to the Yellowstone entrance). Our state can't seem to keep our roads in good shape. The money we do spend in our state obviously isn't spent on our roads! The freeways through these states are impeccable. Not only is the scenery beautiful, the roads are excellent.
Our Favorite Part of the Park
Lamar Valley is in the NE part of the park and that's kind of the "road less travelled." That's where we saw at least 3 bear sighting, with one being a humongous black bear eating "fresh kill", an elk. One cannot grasp the size of some of these bears. As the bear finished eating, he sauntered down to the river for a drink, returned to the carcass and took a nap. It was only then, while the bear was walking and cleaning up, that we realized his immense size.
Upon returning back from Lamar Valley, we witnessed one bear around 2,000 meters away going up the hill. I was impressed with the stature of this bear despite the distance from our vehicle. He didn't take long to disappear up the hill. If you pay attention while you are driving, you will see a lot of wildlife.
Another key attraction is Old Faithful, a natural steam guiser that erupts almost on the hour. This is quite a sight and experience to witness this water eruption replete with steam funnels that shoot skyward. As you survey the backdrop, it's well worth the visit. The Old Faithful Hotel is right next to the attraction and is well worth visiting to see the wooden handiwork of this old hotel. I would look at staying at this hotel upon my next visit. There are quite of bit of people as this is a very popular attraction.
Another key idea I would propose would be to bring some type of long range telescope that can be used to view the wildlife. Much of the wildlife can be seen with the naked eye, but if you have a scope, you can really get a close up view of the wildlife.
Propane is another item you want to pay attention to since it runs a lot of your cooking burners and also refrigerates your food. We had some problems with some of our propane tanks and I'm not sure if it was the altitude or the rough ride. If your not a mechanic such as myself, bring someone who knows how to deal with these types of issues.
We brought 95% of the food we ate. On our way to the park, we stopped at certain restaurants if we weren't in the mood for cooking. I would recommend bringing your food and making a meal plan. What we did was plan all our meals with one difference: one night, my family would be in charge of dinne for both families and vica versa. This cuts down on preparation time, dirty dishes, and waisting food. The meals we enjoyed were cooked with plenty of preparation which meant that we had more time enjoy taking walks, viewing the scenery and doing some exploring. One of the things the park rangers are adamant about is leaving food out. Food attracts animals and this can be dangerous. Bears have a keen sense of smell and they are known to frequent campsites. Please don't underestimate these animals. Keep a good visual of your children and where they are walking. There's been horror stories of bear attacks. Stay vigilant!
You will pay more for fuel as you are travelling into and through these parks. You can find gas stations in Yellowstone believe it or not. Most of the park is around 8,000 feet above sea level so your vehicle may not perform with the same amount of power as at sea level. Jackson Hole Wyoming is a great town to stop and visit. There are many restaurants and accomodations for those travelling to Yellowstone. I thought the town (Jackson Hole Wyoming) was very accomodative and offered plenty to do. We refueled there as we travelled toward the Grand Tetons enroute Yellowstone.
In summary, travelling to this national park was a tremendous opportunity to spend time with my family and make memories that will last a lifetime. I would encourage anyone to travel with a family or families that have an interest in travelling, camping in an RV, spending time with one another and viewing some spectacular scenery. You will want to make reservations at least 6 months in advance of your travel. Yellowstone has very few hook-ups for RV's but does offer a few. If you like electricity, water and sewer, you might be best served to camp outside of the park and travel on day-trips into the park. I would suggest picking a quadrant of the park and using most of the day to explore that area since the park is so vast. Focus in one one part of the park and that way you will be able to take your time and learn about the park as well as view the wildlife.