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Whirlwind Weekend – Road Trip to Yellowstone National Park

Posted on Oct 23, 2012 by in Domestic, Travel | 2 comments

Two National Parks in Two Days

Yellowstone in Late Fall

Road Trip from Salt Lake City to Yellowstone and Grand Teton

Are you ready for another road trip?

Two days and a full tank of gas inspired us to undertake a road trip that would be considered a stretch for even the most seasoned travel maximizer.  To round out what Mr. Travelbypoints has termed our “National Parks Extravaganza” (Five National Parks in Four Weekends), we set off from Salt Lake City this past weekend to visit two of the nation’s most iconic and beloved parks – Yellowstone and Grand Teton.  It turned out to be an exercise in being present, staying flexible and having faith that it would all work out.

In the days leading up to our trip, we played a game of see-saw.  Should we even attempt to see both parks in one weekend or play it safe and pick one?  Even without the spoiler in the paragraph above, if you know anything about Mr. Travelbypoints, you know the ending to the story. Two parks in close proximity to each other is simply too much temptation for my travel-loving husband to pass up.  And, truth be told, I was curious to experience Yellowstone when it wasn’t buried beneath several feet of snow.

Magnificent Yellowstone

Yellowstone is a place worthy of all its superlatives – magical, raw, spectacular and profound.  Not only was it the nation’s first national park, but it was also the first to ignite my interest in national park travel.  Memories of an unexpectedly delightful road trip through Montana and a last minute change of plans due to inclement weather imbue my recollection of visiting Yellowstone on the day it first opened after a long season of hibernation.  In what is quickly becoming a recurring theme to my travels, I found my expectations not only surpassed, but completely shattered at my feet as I stepped out onto a seething yet quiet winterscape of fire and ice.  In that moment I understood why they say that nature is a doorway to the divine.

Yellowstone, in all its seasons, simply defies description.

In the context of this awe-inspiring first encounter, I deliberately dialed down my expectations for our return visit.  After all, two years ago I was a relative travel neophyte.  In the time since, I’ve traipsed through the cobblestone streets of Florence, visited the stone-faced Moai of Easter Island and scaled the mountains of Machu Picchu.  And in the four weeks prior, I added 3 more National Parks to my virtual travel passport – Mount Rainier, Rocky Mountain, and Yosemite.  Would Yellowstone have the same effect on me as it did that brisk winter morning when it ensnared my heart and my imagination?

It most absolutely did.

A Timely Bathroom Break and the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone

It was supposed to be a short bathroom break and quick pit stop for Mr. Travelbypoints to eat his sandwich (I had devoured mine on the car ride over from Salt Lake).  Upon exiting the car, my husband chastened me to be quick.  We had a schedule to keep and a long drive still ahead of us.  He would quickly learn that I am easily distracted.

That distraction came in the form of a small wooden sign pointing down a short path.  Curiosity piqued, I glanced back at the car and could see Mr. Travelbypoints busily chomping away at his foot long sub.  I figured it would take him at least another five minutes to finish off the first six inches and then another ten to polish the other half and clean up.  Plenty of time for me to take a quick peek at what lay at the end of the walkway.

The minute I stepped on the walkway, I lost track of time.  A few steps on the wooden planks transported me to a clearing with a view that took my breath away.  Before me were pools upon pools of bubbling emerald water juxtaposed against a backdrop of meandering boardwalks and scenic lakefront.  I had arrived at the West Thumb of Yellowstone Lake.

Yellowstone in Late Fall

West Thumb Geyser @ Yellowstone Lake

West Thumb Yellowstone

West Thumb’s barren landscape

Yellowstone in Late Fall

Close up of hot pools

Yellowstone in Late Fall

Boardwalk leading to Yellowstone Lake

Yellowstone in Late Fall

Sizzling run-off from a hot spring

Yellowstone in Late Fall

Emerald hot pools contrast with the cold blue waters of the lake

In deep reverie, I walked further and further down the wooden planks, intent on reaching the edge of the lake before heading back to the car.  It was not until I heard my name shouted out in the distance, that I realized that I had strayed longer than intended.  Mr. Travelbypoints had finished his sandwich early and had come to inspect what was keeping his wife out so long.

From the West Thumb, we stopped at several turnouts along the way, taking short jaunts to breathtaking vistas that were rarely more than half a mile from the parking lot.  Mr. Travelbypoints, however, had a method to the madness – a very specific destination in mind, a spot that left him awestruck during his first visit to the park two years ago.  When we finally reached Artist Point at the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone, we let out a collective breath of silent appreciation.  It was well worth the drive and hike.

Yellowstone in Late Fall

Artist Point at the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone

Yellowstone in Late Fall

Another view of the canyon in all its colorful splendor

Yellowstone in Late Fall

Like a painting but better…

Yellowstone in Late Fall

Near the brink of the lower falls

Best Kept Secret of Yellowstone

Our final stop of the day was situated near the Northern Entrance to Yellowstone, a spot deemed by some adventure travelers to be one of the best kept secrets of the park – the Boiling River.  Located just south of the Montana/Wyoming border at the 45th Parallel (an imaginary line halfway between the North Pole and the Equator), the Boiling River lies at the confluence between the coursing Gardner River and run-off from a large hot spring that gives the spot its name.  Although unmarked on any park map, if you ask a ranger whether there is any place in Yellowstone where you can bathe in hot spring water, they will direct you to this little known turn-off along the Gardner River.

As we made our way through the park towards the Northern Entrance , we were greeted with the unwanted pitter patter of rain and dwindling sunlight.  Mr. Travelbypoints told me to temper my expectations since this likely meant we would not have a chance to bathe in the waters of the Boiling River.  As luck would have it, however, by the time we reached the pull-off to the trail head, the rain had miraculously stopped and the sun peeked out from behind the gathering clouds.  We would get our bath after all!

Yellowstone in Late Fall

Parking Lot and Trail Head to the Boiling River

Yellowstone in Late Fall

The half-mile hike starts here (1 mile roundtrip)

Yellowstone in Late Fall

Mr. Travelbypoints leads the way towards the Boiling River

Yellowstone in Late Fall

Boiling River and adventurous bathers in the distance

Yellowstone in Late Fall

We get more excited as we approach the soaking area and see so many enthusiastic bathers!

Yellowstone in Late Fall

Bathers of all ages and ethnicities

Yellowstone in Late Fall

The water is HOT!

Yellowstone in Late Fall

Steam from the Boiling River

By the time we emerged from the rejuvenating, mineral rich waters of the Boiling River, a slight mist started to sprinkle again and indicated that it was indeed time to call it a day and head back to our hotel.  Mr. Travelbypoints, having spent over 8 hours of driving since the morning, was none the worst for wear, claiming that the waters of the Boiling River had re-energized him for the drive back to the hotel.

It was the perfect cap to a day of unexpected delights.  We would sleep well that night, both in gratitude for a day well spent and in gleeful anticipation of tomorrow’s sunrise and another full day of touring at Grand Teton National Park.

Road Trip to Yellowstone

Shifting clouds provide ever changing scenery to accompany our road trip

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