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Trip Report: Yellowstone and Grand Teton (with Utah and South Dakota)

Trip Report: Yellowstone and Grand Teton (with Utah and South Dakota)

Old Jun 1st, 2011, 07:42 AM
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Trip Report: Yellowstone and Grand Teton (with Utah and South Dakota)

A trip to Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks had been on my list of things to do for several years. My parents and I took this trip together, and while the focus of the trip was the National Parks, we also wanted to see some of the other sights in that part of the country. We opted to fly into Salt Lake City and spend a day there before driving up to the parks in Wyoming, where we spent 6 days in both Grand Teton and Yellowstone. After departing Yellowstone we drove east through Wyoming and ended our trip in Rapid City South Dakota. We tend to like whirlwind trips where we pack a lot of sights into a small amount of time; our style of travel is to get more of an overview of an area we’ve never been to before. That way we get to see most of what we consider highlights in the first trip, and if we really like a location, then we can return another time and go back to the things we didn’t get to see or want to spend more time on. We are also very into planning. The majority of our trips are planned with the precision of a military maneuver with not a lot left to chance. The planning for this trip took us months of studying maps and guide books to determine the best route for us to take and what sights we definitely could not miss. Of course nature being unpredictable, this year they had record amounts of snow out West and in the days and weeks leading up to our trip, we kept reading articles about the winter that wouldn’t quit in Wyoming, flooding in Salt Lake City area and other natural events beyond anyone’s control such as the snow slides that caused Sylvan Pass near Yellowstone’s East entrance to be closed temporarily. We just hoped that by the time we arrived, we would be lucky enough not to encounter flooded roads or be caught in any more avalanches that would cause havoc all around and us to have to alter our carefully made plans. While no natural disasters befell us, we did encounter very varied weather which caused us to alter our plans here and there.

We departed Boston on Friday night on Delta Airlines nonstop to Salt Lake City. The flight took off about 30 minutes late but we arrived 20 minutes early. However, due to having to wait for a gate, we used up all the time we had saved. It then took about 15 minutes for the luggage to come out and we were finally able to proceed to the Hertz counter to get our rental car. We had originally reserved a sedan, but ended up getting a small Toyota RAV4 SUV since our trip included driving into the mountains in what was predicted to be possibly stormy weather. This wasn’t really our top choice of car to rent, but the luggage all fit and since we had planned to exchange the car in Jackson anyway, since the rates were cheaper to rent there, it didn’t really matter.

The drive to our hotel, the Little America took about 10 minutes. Upon arrival at the hotel we were assigned room #8138. We had stayed at the Little America chain before on a trip to Flagstaff AZ and enjoyed it, so that is what prompted us to stay there again. We find the rooms in this chain to be quite large in size, nicely furnished and a good value. This hotel has a swimming pool and contains a steak house and a coffee shop for restaurants.
We then went to the hotel coffee shop for dessert since we hadn’t eaten anything much on the plane. We got one pineapple upside down cake and 2 orders of the cheddabutta brownies (a marbled brownie served with vanilla ice cream, hot fudge and whipped cream). We all enjoyed our desserts and then headed back to the room for the night.

Saturday we got up and went to the coffee shop for breakfast. I had the cottage fried potatoes and a slice of pecan pie. They had just taken the pie out of the oven according to the waitress and it was still nice and warm. My mother got the blueberry pancakes and my father got the pancake combo with bacon.

Around 8:30am we stepped outside the hotel to the UTA TRAXX station to get the train to the Temple Square area to begin our sightseeing. The TRAXX is free to ride within the downtown area and there is a stop diagonally across the street from the Little America (the stop is called Court House). We disembarked at the Temple Square stop and entered the Square. We began our day in one of the Visitors Centers where they have displays about how the Temple was built and a cut away model showing you a replica of the interior. Next we went in the Tabernacle, Assembly Hall, and walked around the square admiring the beautiful flower plantings and the exterior of the Temple itself. We then went across the street to the Conference Center and took a brief tour there which included the lovely roof deck which has a garden and reflecting pool on top and has sweeping views of the mountains in the distance. Next we made our way back across the street and walked through some more beautiful gardens and into the Joseph Smith Memorial Building to go to the 10th floor to take in those views. We also walked by the Lion and Beehive Houses before walking up State Street to look at the state Capitol building.

By now it was about 12:30pm, so we took the train back to the hotel to get ready to drive out in our car to some neighborhoods further away. We drove first to the Red Butte Garden on the University of Utah campus. This garden has a variety of garden settings to walk through, but on the whole it didn’t seem like a lot was in bloom yet.
Next we drove to various neighborhoods such as the Avenues district, Marmalade and Sugar House. We did quite a bit of driving, as we like to look at neighborhoods when we travel to see how people in other parts of the country live.

At 6pm we drove to Trolley Square to the Rodizio Grill for our dinner reservation. We had never been to a Brazilian barbeque place before and since we had been looking for places to go in Salt Lake, we decided to try it after finding it online months in advance. We enjoyed our dinners there. For drinks we got a Caipirinha, Rocky Mountain Lemonade and a Margarita. The salad bar items were tasty I thought; some of my favorites included the pork salad, strawberry salad and Greek style salad. The meats are brought around to your table on skewers by various servers. You may opt to have a piece of whatever is being offered or pass it up. Some of my favorite items were the top sirloin, beef with parmesan cheese, roasted tomatoes, pork and my personal favorite was the grilled pineapple which had a sugary glaze. They came around with about 8 different types of beef, several types of chicken, turkey and sausage. I would have liked to have had dessert but I was too full at that time.

We went back to the hotel and took the opportunity to explore the Grand America hotel which is across the street and part of the same chain. We then went back to the coffee shop at the Little America to have dessert which was hot fudge sundaes for my mother and I and a dish of mint chip ice cream for my father.
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Old Jun 1st, 2011, 07:44 AM
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Sunday morning we got up at 6am so that we would be ready to leave the hotel by 7am for our drive up to Jackson WY. We departed on time and drove up to Ogden UT where we had breakfast at Jeremiah’s which we had also found online a couple weeks ahead of our trip. It is located in the same complex as the Best Western High Country. Our meals consisted of strawberry waffles for my parents and a huge cinnamon roll for me. The roll was the size of a dinner plate and had a delicious cinnamon sauce poured over the top; I could only eat about a third of it before giving up. We then got back on the road and drove North through Logan UT and up to Bear Lake before passing into Idaho. My one disappointment was that all the places that serve the famous raspberry shakes in Garden City near Bear Lake were closed! We drove through Idaho and then came into Wyoming. The one inconvenience which we were anticipating was that US 89 was still closed between Alpine and Hoback due to a large mudslide a couple weeks ago. We had been monitoring the situation via internet so we were aware of the closure days ahead of time but the detour added 60 miles to our trip and took us back into Idaho before returning to Wyoming and going over Teton Pass and into Jackson. Our plan upon arriving in Jackson was to exchange our rental car for something else. So I had my parents drop me off in downtown Jackson while they went to the airport to exchange the car. I looked in the souvenir shops, took the requisite photos of the antler arches in the town square and got an English toffee ice cream at Moo’s.

Around 4:30pm my parents picked me up in our new Subaru Outback. Turns out they were later than expected picking me up due to the fact that they got stuck in traffic due to a herd of buffalo with a baby in the road. I was so annoyed that I’d missed it since that seems like the perfect introduction to the parks!

We then got back on the road and continued on our way to Jackson Lake Lodge within Grand Teton National Park. We saw a moose laying down in some sage brush by the side of the road and some bison in the distance as we drove along.

We arrived at the hotel and it was nearly deserted (this is the advantage of going during shoulder season). We had booked a room in the main lodge building with a view over Willow Flats and were assigned #28. The room was not large but it was sufficient. Décor was light woods, greens and beige. The view from the room was spectacular--willow flats, a frozen Jackson Lake and the mountains.

For dinner tonight we ate in the Pioneer Grill which is the casual restaurant in the hotel. It is sort of an old fashioned soda fountain or diner in style. The seating is all counter seating and the counter is very long, winding through the whole restaurant. I had a Philly Cheesesteak and we split an order of onion rings. My mother had the meatloaf and my father had the bison burger. All of us enjoyed our meals, but agreed it was too much food and that the service was really slow and seemed inefficient. Of course that didn’t stop us from having dessert. My parents both got huckleberry pie ala mode and I got the Mount Owen which is 2 chocolate chip cookies with vanilla ice cream, hot fudge and whipped cream. We all thought the desserts were delicious as well. The area around Grand Teton and Yellowstone has a lot of huckleberry products and we took advantage of them during our stay.

After dinner we went back up to our room and spotted a moose out the window so we went down to get some pictures. While down there we saw another moose and some elk. The view out our room window was just as good if not better than the view from the viewing patio since you are raised up more in the room but I prefer photographing without windows when possible in case the camera picks up any smudges or flecks on the glass.

Monday morning we once again got up at 6am and awoke to a view of some moose in the flats eating weeds out of a small pond. We went downstairs to the Pioneer Grill for breakfast where my parents both had huckleberry pancakes and I had a huckleberry shake.

We then got in the car and began our tour of the park. We started heading south on Rte. 89 and we stopped at every single pull out along the road. We also visited Mormon Row on Antelope Flats Road. We stopped at the Visitor’s Center in Moose and then went to Dornan’s for lunch where we got sandwiches. They sell groceries, pre-made sandwiches and made to order sandwiches. We decided to drive down near the airport since there had been a big herd of buffalo there the day before. There were more there today and we got some good photos. Next we continued our tour of the park along Teton Park Rd on the Jenny Lake side of the park and once again we stopped at every pull out. It was quite a bit colder on that side and there was a good 2 feet of snow still on the ground in places. Jenny Lake is also still frozen---not frozen solid, but still icy except along the very edges. It was sunny most of the day but we had a brief shower while at the Jenny Lake overlook. Jenny Lake Lodge was not yet open for the season which was too bad as I would have liked to have seen a bit of its area, but the visitor’s entry was not even plowed out yet, so we couldn’t park and take a look.

Once back at our hotel we looked in the gift shops and I went for a walk over to the corral to see the horses and then up the Lunch Tree Hill trail which offers a nice view of willow flats from above.

At 5:30pm we went to the Blue Heron Lounge to get drinks to enjoy outside on the deck overlooking the flats. My mother and I had the huckleberry margarita and my father just got a Jack Daniels. I would imagine that in high season the deck could be quite busy at cocktail hour, but when we were there we had our pick of the tables as there were only a few other people. Luckily it was in a sunny period of the day while we had our drinks or it wouldn‘t have been as pleasant sitting outdoors. The interior of the Blue Heron is terraced as well, so if you choose to have a drink indoors you can still get a view.

Dinner tonight was 6:30pm in the Mural Room. We got a nice table overlooking the flats. For an appetizer we got the baked brie. My mother and I got the prime rib which was served with whipped potatoes and fried parsnips. My father had the lamb sirloin. For dessert I had the banana chocolate beignets served with a small Bailey’s milk shake, my father had the sorbet trio and my mother had the huckleberry bread pudding.

During dinner it had rained so we went up to our room to look for wildlife. We didn’t see any for a while but after about 15 min we saw 3 moose approaching the same pond we had seen them in earlier. We watched the moose for most of the evening. It appeared to be maybe a mother moose with a juvenile. The mother seemed to not like the third moose’s presence and chased it a couple times until it settled in a location she was happy with.
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Old Jun 1st, 2011, 07:47 AM
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Once again we got up early on Tuesday and made our way to the Pioneer Grill for breakfast. I had a huckleberry shake, my mother had an English muffin and a huckleberry shake and my father had a huckleberry turnover. Yes, we do like our huckleberry products!
After breakfast it was time to check out of the hotel and begin our journey to Yellowstone. Unfortunately, it had rained all night and was still raining steadily so it made sightseeing less favorable. We left the hotel and made our way up Rte. 89 and got to Yellowstone’s South entrance about 10am. Upon entering, the ranger at the booth informed us that the road from West Thumb to Old Faithful was closed because of snow on Craig Pass. This was an annoying development since we were staying at the Old Faithful Inn and had planned on heading in that direction and seeing all the sights in that surrounding area. Instead we would have to take the long loop around. We started in and found lots of snow still on the ground from the never ending winter they have had this year. The south entrance road had snow piled so high from the clearing efforts it made it hard to see over the snow banks and we were driving in a tunnel part of the time. Luckily, we had our winter clothes on; I think we would have been cold without them. Our first stop was Lewis Falls and then the Continental Divide sign. We then continued on to West Thumb Geyser Basin. The boardwalks at the basin had a thin layer of slushy snow on them so it was a little slippery. The West Thumb Geyser Basin was a good first stop because it seems to have an example of each type of feature found in the park-- mud pot, geyser, spring, fumarole etc. After our stop at West Thumb, we backtracked to Grant Village to look for restrooms. We did take the opportunity to check in the convenience store to see if there was any information on when the Craig Pass road would open and it sounded like it might be open, so we drove up there and found a line of cars waiting to cross. The annoying part was is that they were letting delivery trucks through from the opposite direction but passenger cars all had to wait. We waited about 30 min and then gave up---word was that it might reopen in an hour, but that was not definite and we didn’t want to waste our time waiting when we could be seeing something.

We drove around the loop to Fishing Bridge, Canyon and then Norris. Since we planned to see all the sights on the Canyon side another day, our first stop was the Norris Geyser Basin. Next we drove on to Chocolate Pot, Artist Paint Pots and Gibbon Falls. The walk in to Artist Paint Pots is about 1/3 mile and it is all flat. Once there you can walk around on the flat area or climb the steps to look out over the Pots. The rain was coursing down the steps in a waterfall fashion but the view from the top was nice.

After Gibbon Falls we drove past Madison and attempted to take Firehole Canyon Drive, Fountain Flat Drive or Firehole Lake Drive but they were all closed. We couldn’t figure out why so many of the scenic drives were closed. Not sure if this is a normal, seasonal closure or something else weather related. We didn’t see anything on any websites ahead of time mentioning closure of some of these drives, but there were quite a few closed. There was no evidence of snow on these roads at least where they join the main road.
We also stopped at Fountain Paint Pot and Biscuit Basin. Biscuit Basin was nice and would have been nicer if it wasn’t raining; the colors of the pools are not as vibrant for photographing when its raining than if it was a sunny day. The other problem with the rainy weather was that I had bought a new camera with a better zoom lens just for this trip and because of the rain on the first day I didn’t even use it that day--I used my waterproof camera instead!

By now it was 4:30pm and we had arrived at our destination of Old Faithful Inn. We checked into the hotel and were assigned room 3012 in the East wing. The room was not as nice as the one at Jackson Lake Lodge and was a bit utilitarian, but it did have a view of Old Faithful. The public rooms of the Inn are very impressive; 3 story wood beamed with a huge stone fireplace. There is actually a crows nest that is about 5 stories high but they no longer let the general public up there. I would think the view down from there into the lobby would be great.

We decided to have dinner at the Obsidian Room in the Old Faithful Snow Lodge. It is just a couple minutes walk from the Old Faithful Inn. I had a margarita, dinner salad, linguine with spicy peanut sauce and the Yellowstone Caldera for dessert (molten chocolate cake). My mother had a margarita, dinner salad and pork chop while my father had a margarita, corn chowder and prime rib. We all enjoyed our meals and thought the food was quite good. The lava cake was especially dense, moist and fudgy.

After dinner we made our way back to the Inn and looked around the lobby until the next eruption of Old Faithful was due at approx 8:10pm. They have a clock in the lobby of the Inn telling you when the next eruption will be. Since it was still raining we decided to watch from the covered porch on the second floor off the upper lobby. We got a good seat before other people started coming out and we waited. It didn’t end up going off until 8:35pm and when it did, the steam blocked the view of the water spouting up since I think we were downwind! I guess you really need to be upwind so that you have an unobstructed view.

Wednesday we awoke to the sight of a bison wandering around Old Faithful. We then went down to breakfast in the dining room. I just had a side of home fries, my mother had blueberry pancakes and my father had buttermilk pancakes.

We wanted to visit the Old Faithful Visitor’s Center but it didn’t open until 9am, So instead we decided to do the Geyser Hill walk. This takes you past Old Faithful and up a boardwalk past Anemone Geyser, Doublet Pool and Beehive Geyser among others. We saw Old Faithful go off from out on the boardwalk, but once again we were downwind of it, so all we saw was steam! At least it was sunny this morning so photos of the pools came out well.
By the time we finished our walk, the Visitor’s Center was open so we went in to look at the displays. Inside the center they also have a schedule of which geysers are predicted to erupt.

After we finished at Old Faithful, we got in the car and set off for Mammoth Hot Springs. On the way we stopped at Grand Prismatic Pool. It wasn’t really worth the walk in there though (at least on our day) because it was so steamy you couldn’t see a thing.

On the way to Mammoth we got caught in a bear jam. On the road just south of the Golden Gate (Swan Lake area), there was a mother grizzly bear and 2 cubs on a hill near the road. Most people pulled off to the side or used the pullouts like you are supposed to, but a couple people stopped dead in the middle of the road and wouldn’t move, tying up traffic until a ranger arrived. It was great to see the bears and I got some wonderful pictures.

We arrived at the Mammoth Hot Springs area and I walked around the Terraces. The landscape around Mammoth is totally different than that of Old Faithful area. The terraces are made of calcium carbonate and the different colors are made by different micro-organisms.
We had a quick lunch at the Terrace Grill at the Mammoth Hot Springs hotel and then decided to drive out to the North Entrance to the park in Gardiner MT. We really liked the North Entrance to the park better than the Southern Entrance we had come in. It is much more dramatic-- at least for us, as the landscape is totally different than what we have a home. Rolling green hills, sheer cliffs and a rushing river greet you. The southern entrance looks more like New Hampshire and while it’s pretty, it’s just not as exciting for us being from New England.

We then drove back through Mammoth and noticed the elk grazing all over the town lawns and there was a mother with a baby elk. A crowd was gathering to see the baby so we were lucky to get a parking spot when we did.

Upper Terrace Drive was closed (surprise, surprise--closed just like everything else), but you could park and walk in and access the features in the area. By now it was 3:30pm and time to head back to Old Faithful Inn. We got to about Norris and then got stuck in a traffic tie up. Cars were backed up in both directions due to what turned out to be bison in the road. The cars ahead of us were backed up about a third of a mile and while we couldn’t see the bison, a man driving the other direction was calling out his open window that it was bison in the road. While we were waiting for the first herd to clear (30 min) another group of five came down the road weaving between cars from the opposite direction. They were about 1 inch from our car. That group exited the road quickly and soon the other group cleared as well and we were on our way.

We got back to the hotel about 5pm and decided to have a drink on the upper level porch overlooking Old Faithful before dinner. We had an Indian Paintbrush for me, a margarita for my mother and a Jack Daniels for my father. The weather had turned out to be beautiful despite a misty start and we enjoyed sitting out in the sun enjoying the views.

We had a 6:15pm reservation in the Dining Room and we were seated in the new section of the dining room. We all 3 opted to get the prime rib buffet rather than order a la carte. The buffet includes 2 soups, salad, twice baked potatoes, fried cauliflower, green beans, mushrooms and prime rib. You can make as many trips as you like. We also ordered desserts-- my father had the Yellowstone Sundae (crumb cake with huckleberry ice cream and berry topping) and my mother and I had the Yellowstone Caldera (molten chocolate cake).

After dinner we managed to just miss the 8:10pm eruption of Old Faithful, so we walked down the driveway to view the bison grazing. I noticed 2 of them were plunked down right next to the geyser boardwalk.

Old Faithful was due to go off again at about 9:40pm so we went out to see it then.
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Old Jun 1st, 2011, 07:50 AM
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Thursday we awoke to a dusting of snow and wind. We had breakfast in the Old Faithful dining room. Home fries for me, my mother got blueberry pancakes and my father got the buffet. After breakfast we went to see Old Faithful go off one last time before checking out. This time we made sure to be upwind so that we could see the actual plume of water instead of just the mist and steam it generates.

We departed the hotel and drove the road between Old Faithful and West Thumb. We especially enjoyed our stop at Kepler Cascades which is a small picturesque waterfall set among the trees. We continued around the loop road stopping at LeHardy’s Rapids where I walked into the woods to view them and eventually sank in thigh deep snow. We continued up to the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone where we stopped at each of the view point turnouts to view both Upper and Lower falls going on both South and North Rim Drives. One of the things I had been looking forward to doing was taking Uncle Tom’s Trail. However, you could access the first part of the trail leading to it but then it got snowy and it was no longer packed down so if you didn’t know where you were going, it would be hard to find the trail. Therefore I abandoned my idea of trying to do Uncle Tom’s also thinking that even if I found the steps, they may be covered in snow; I will have to do Uncle Tom’s the next time. My favorite viewing point was Artist Point. The Canyon was so beautiful with multiple colors in the cliffs. The weather for the day made it less pleasant going around and getting in and out of the car--the wind was ferocious and relentless. The temperatures were in the upper 30s to low 40s but it felt colder with the wind chill. We also had snow showers alternating with sun all day long. Our new wildlife sighting for the day was a marmot.

We then drove to the Lake Yellowstone Hotel. We checked in and were assigned room number 244. When we walked in, the room was very cold. After exploring the window we discovered why. The window in the room fit very poorly and was missing much of the putty that keeps the glass in the frame. So not only was cold air leaking in around the edge, but around the glass and frame. Seeing that the Lake hotel is one of their historic properties and that we saw other people walking around with extra clothes on, we didn’t bother asking to switch rooms as I have the feeling that they would all be the same--especially in the cold wind we had. The heat was turned up as high as possible but with the leaking window and relentless wind, it never warmed up in the room. We packed tissues and towels around any cracks that we could.

We walked around the hotel and got a cocktail in the sunroom bar--a Jack Daniels for my father, margarita for my mother and a mammoth lemonade (huckleberry vodka, cranberry juice and lemonade) for me. Our dinner reservation was for 6:45pm so as soon as we finished our cocktails we went in. The dining room is fairly large and has nice picture windows. We got the waffle fries with melted blue cheese, peppercorns and parsley for an appetizer. For the main course my mother and I both got the NY Strip Steak served with garlic mashed potatoes. My father had the duck breast. For desserts I once again got the Yellowstone Caldera, while my father got the frozen huckleberry mousse and my mother got the Yellowstone Sundae.

After dinner we walked around a little bit outside and then came back in and sat in the public rooms of the hotel since our room was still very cold. Like I mentioned before, other people looked like they were wearing extra clothes as well so they must have had the same experience we did. We asked for extra blankets and they brought several, which we did use to make the night tolerable.

On Friday we woke up to about an inch and a half of snow on the ground. We went down to breakfast where I had an English muffin, my mother had French toast and my father got the buffet. Our plan was to drive up to the Northeast park exit since Sylvan pass is still only open limited hours that were not convenient for us. After breakfast we went to the front desk to check the road reports since we were due to leave the park that day. Well, it turned out that the park service had closed almost every road in the park (all except the northern roads by Mammoth and Lamar Valley were closed). We had no other choice but to sit in the warm lobby with everyone else waiting to get word that the roads had opened. Finally at 10:15am we received word that the roads were open and everyone poured out of the hotel. We drove up to Canyon and then to Norris and then Mammoth. Along the way we got stuck in a short bear jam and it was another grizzly. It was exciting to get two grizzly sightings on the trip since other places we’ve seen bears have just been black bears. We stopped for lunch in Mammoth where we all got cheeseburgers and I had one last huckleberry ice cream.

Our next stop was Undine Falls, then we stopped a few other times for various scenic view points. We also stopped at Tower Falls before heading out of the park through Lamar Valley where we got to see about 6 pronghorn. The drive out of the park was beautiful; we ended up being glad that Sylvan Pass is still limited, as if Sylvan had been convenient for us we probably would have gone out that way and never seen Lamar Valley due to time constraints.

We left the park at 3:15pm and drove out through Cooke City Montana and then down the Chief Joseph Highway which was beautiful . As we passed through the mountains we hit a strong snow squall but once we got out of the mountains the sun came out again and the snow stopped. We continued on Chief Joseph over Dead Indian Pass and down to Cody WY where we would spend the night at The Cody.

We found the hotel and checked in. I was assigned room 215 and it was so nice compared to the previous night experience! The room was fairly large, the heater worked and the water pressure in the shower was strong. The hotel itself has a small stream and firepit landscaped out front. They also have a lovely indoor pool area and in the lobby, one nice feature is that they have a binder of menus from many of the local restaurants so you can use that to help you choose a place (too bad we didn’t see it before we checked out and they didn’t mention it upon check in when we asked about restaurants). We enjoyed our stay at the hotel and would recommend it.

For dinner we drove 1 minute down the street to The Terrace. I had seen this place recommended on Trip Advisor and it turned out to be great. My mother and I got margaritas while my father had a beer. The bread and butter were delicious-- the butter had garlic/herbs in it. We all had the 10 oz rib eye steak and 2 of us got loaded baked potatoes which had bacon, chives, cheese, butter and sour cream. We also ordered dinner salads with blue cheese dressing. We all agreed that the meal was delicious-- the steaks all cooked to order and very flavorful and tender. My parents had the Apple Crumble Pie for dessert while I got the Key Lime Tart. The desserts were great as well. I’d definitely return to this restaurant in Cody.

After dinner back at the hotel I took a quick swim in the indoor pool. We had torrential rain that night-- you could hear it beating against the balcony door and the flag was whipping in the strong wind.

Saturday we went downstairs to the free breakfast provided by the hotel. They had waffles, bagels, sausage, turnovers, toast, coffee and juice.
We departed the hotel around 8am and drove down the street to the Buffalo Bill Historical Center. The center contains 5 museums under one roof- Yellowstone Natural History, Buffalo Bill, Plains Indian People, Western Art and Firearms. My favorite was the Natural History museum followed by the Buffalo Bill. The museums are very extensive and we only had 3 hours so we didn’t get to see as much of the art and firearms museum because we saw them last.

We left the museum at 11am to start our drive to Gillette WY. We took Rte 16/20. We saw quite a few pronghorn on the trip and one even ran in front of the car across the road. We stopped for lunch at McDonalds in Worland. This was the slowest and least competent McDonalds I’ve ever been to. They took 15 min to get the food together and then our order was incorrect when we finally got it. In fact they gave us 2 snack wraps that don’t even exist on the menu-- how they managed to concoct what they did is beyond me. However, it would have been fruitless and time consuming to return to the counter so we just ate it anyway. It tasted fine but wasn’t what we ordered.

We then continued on Rte 16 over Powder River Pass and then saw some deer on a hillside while heading down the pass so we stopped in a pullout and got out our binoculars to observe. From there we picked up I-90 to Gillette. The whole drive took us about 6 hours and we arrived in Gillette at 5pm.
We found our hotel, the Settle Inn, easily and checked in. We were assigned room 331. The room was large and decorated in a dark brown, dark woods and yellow color scheme with western art on the wall.

We drove out for dinner at Las Margaritas. We all got margaritas to drink and my mother and I both got the 2 cheese enchiladas combo which was served with refried beans, rice and Mexican slaw. My father had the Chicken Enchiladas Mexico which had the same accompaniments. For dessert we walked across the parking lot to Dairy Queen to get Midnight Truffle Blizzards.

Back at the hotel I went for a swim in the indoor pool and then went outside to take pictures of the sunset.
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Old Jun 1st, 2011, 07:52 AM
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Sunday we woke up to pouring rain. We went downstairs to the included hotel breakfast which had donuts, cereal, pastry and make your own waffles. The breakfast offerings here were better from my perspective than those offered at The Cody.

We left the hotel around 8am for our drive to Custer SD and the Crazy Horse Memorial. Crazy Horse Memorial is a work in progress and is a likeness of Crazy Horse being carved out of a mountain. They have a visitor’s center where you can watch a brief movie on the building of the monument. They also have an extensive collection of Indian artifacts, models of what the monument will look like when complete and of course a gift shop. You have the option of taking a bus ride to the base of the mountain for an additional fee, but since it was raining we decided not to go all the way to the base of the mountain. We did however get to view the sculpture from the picture windows in the visitor’s center. It was misty which made the air a little unclear but we could still see okay.

After departing Crazy Horse we made our way up the road to Mount Rushmore. As we ascended upward it got foggier and foggier. We assumed we wouldn’t be able to see anything, but we decided to go in anyway since we could still look at the indoor exhibits. We parked and made our way down the Avenue of Flags toward where we should have been able to see Mount Rushmore. It was completely fogged in. We went down to the Visitor’s Center and watched the introductory movie and walked through all the exhibits. We were hoping it might clear during this time, but of course we were not that lucky. I decided to take the ½ mile Presidential Trail which is a loop trail that brings you closer to the base of the mountain. On the left side of the trail you could sort of make out a rough silhouette of the sculpture but that was all. But a silhouette was better than not being able to see anything. After I returned from my walk we actually sat on a bench in the visitors center for an hour watching the fog lift slightly and then descend again; we were hoping it would clear off enough to catch a glimpse of Mount Rushmore but we had no luck. I had to buy a postcard so that I had photo record of my trip there!

We left Mount Rushmore disappointed that we couldn’t see anything--it was after all the main reason we decided to end our trip in South Dakota! We drove up to Rapid City through very heavy fog and checked into our hotel the Grand Stay Suites. We were assigned room 215 which is a 2 bedroom suite. We had 2 separate bedrooms and a living area and kitchen between them.

For dinner we drove down the street to Minervas. We all had margaritas and my mother had the 3 cheese mac and cheese which consists of 3 different cheeses and 3 types of pasta, my father had the steak and gorgonzola penne and I got the Steak Michael (strip steak with a blue cheese, horseradish and parmesan crust in a cognac demi glace with sautéed mushrooms). The steak was served with a choice of side and I selected a loaded baked potato. All the meals came with salad and bread as well. We all loved the salad, as it had a lot of items in it--olives, onions, parmesan, salami, hot peppers etc. and the dressing was light yet flavorful. For desserts we got the raspberry bread pudding, chocolate brownie soufflé and the dueling brownies ( 2 brownies- one served with vanilla ice cream and Mexican chocolate sauce and one served with butter pecan ice cream and crème anglais).

After dinner we got back to the hotel and I went for a swim in the pool which had become a nightly ritual.

Monday was our last day of the trip and we were due to fly back to Boston from Rapid City. This day we got up at 7am and then went down to the included hotel breakfast. The breakfast consisted of make your own waffles, donuts, biscuits, grits and muffins (one of which tasted like a cupcake instead of a muffin which I thought was great).

Our flight was not until 11:53am so we sat in the hotel room until 9:15am checking our flight status on my laptop. Rain had been predicted in Rapid City and in Minneapolis where we would be making our connection, so we wanted to keep abreast of flight status. Luckily, we didn’t get any bad weather, so our flights were fine.

We left the hotel about 9:15am and drove to the airport. We arrived at the airport a little before 10am and returned our rental car to Hertz and then checked in for our flight. We wanted to arrive early at the airport since we had no idea how busy it would be and so often it is small regional airports which have tie ups at check in or security due to limited personnel. It turned out that there was no line at check in or at security and we got to the gate very quickly.

Our flight from Rapid City took off on time and we arrived in time to get our connection in Minneapolis, even having time to stop at Dairy Queen in the terminal for ice cream. Our flight to Boston took off about 45-60 min late due to a medical emergency onboard causing them to remove the person in question. We landed in Boston about 7:35pm and our luggage came out right away so that was a nice ending to our journey.

Despite our weather set backs we really enjoyed our western trip. I would stay at all of the hotels we stayed at again with the exception of the Lake Yellowstone Hotel. Instead of the Lake Yellowstone, I would base myself at Mammoth Hot Springs for a night to have better access to Lamar Valley and be able to drive through there either earlier morning or evening to view the animals. I was glad I got a camera with a better telephoto lens as it came in really useful for photographing the animals you can’t get that close to. I’m not really that into photography and I don’t have a D-SLR, but every time I see someone with one of those huge lenses I drool with envy that they must be able to zoom in so close to the animal in question. At the same time, it’s helpful to have a good wide angle lens as well, to capture all the sweeping vistas that the parks offer. I used the Panasonic Lumix FZ100 for my best camera and made due with a Pentax Optio W60 and a Panasonic Lumix DMC-LZ2PP for rainy days. I would also advise bringing a pair of binoculars; our pairs ranged from 8x21, 8x42 and 7x50 and they all seemed sufficient, though stronger would probably be even better. Also, when researching Yellowstone I found the Yellowstone Insider website only a couple weeks before our trip, but found that site to be helpful.

We considered ourselves lucky to have gotten out of Yellowstone when we did. We left Friday and on Saturday we heard they had a lot of snow which of course caused more road closures and in addition to that, the road between Mammoth and the Northeast entrance was closed due to a rock slide and is supposedly still not open as I write this. Between the timing for being able to get out the East entrance (Sylvan Pass) and road closures that could correspond with those hours and the fact that the Northeast entrance is now inaccessible (since the seasonally closed road between Tower and Canyon is still closed), we could have been trapped on the wrong side of the park to get to Rapid City.

Another thing I might do differently the next time is fly to Bozeman and come in the North entrance and then make my exit through the South and go on to Grand Teton and fly out of Jackson. Though all the scenery in the park was gorgeous, we were impressed by the North more than the South and it would have made it more exciting to enter the park that way at least for us.

The parks offer something for everyone--hiking, camping, horseback rides, rafting, leisurely walks or driving around enjoying the scenery from your car. The next time I go I’d like to be able to take some of the hiking trails and do a float trip in Grand Teton. Hopefully, the next time there will be less snow or I should bring my snowshoes!
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