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This was a return visit to Grand Teton and Yellowstone Parks for us. However, there was a long interval in between our visits. Our last visit was in 1984!! While some things have changed, much of the parks are as we remembered them. Part of the fun on this visit was remembering our experiences from the 1984 trip and identifying what had changed in the intervening 27 years. The most noticeable change was the abundance of recent geological information about the history of the land formations that make up Yellowstone Park. Much has become known about the volcanic activity of the area of Yellowstone Park, including the fact that the 35 by 45 mile caldera could 'erupt' at any moment. Several new Visitor Education Centers contain excellent exhibits about the geologic history of the area. We reaffirmed our appreciation of our National Parks and the services they provide. We are planning on returning for another visit to Yellowstone, well before the next 27 year milestone!
We began our journey with a drive to Newark airport. After lunch in the Newark airport, we flew first to O'Hare. We had a reasonable layover at O'Hare and ate dinner there before transferring to a plane bound for Jackson Hole, Wyoming. note: the ORD airport Chili's Bar does not serve nachos, but their beer helped us get over our disappointment. With the 2 hour time change from Philly, we arrived in Jackson Hole about 8:30 PM local time, while there was still some fading light. Rather than drive 2+ hours in the dark to Yellowstone, we opted to spend the night in nearby Teton Village.
I like the mountains and always enjoy being close to them. You have to smile at the mindset of the early French explorers, who on seeing the mountain, named it 'Grand Teton' [Big Tit, for you non-French scholars]. We saw our only moose along the Snake river by the Craig Thomas Visitor Center. We made many stops along the road north to enjoy the scenery. We almost got caught in a midday summer storm, but had wisely chosen to have our lunch under cover at the Signal Mountain Lodge, which is next to Jackson Lake.
While in Yellowstone, we made Canyon Village our base of operations. It is at the crossbar of the big figure '8' loop road and therefore a good central location. Canyon Village is just north of Hayden Valley, which was convenient for early morning wildlife watching. We spent a leisurely morning exploring both rims of the Yellowstone Canyon and then made our way over to the Old Faithful area where we had a dinner reservation at the Inn. We also quickly remembered that sightseeing usually takes more time than planned. We were typically out of our 'rustic' cabin by 7:00 AM and did not return until 10:00 PM. Just enough time to review our pictures from the day and plan our explorations for the next day.
Having spent a day travelling up through Grand Teton and another day checking out Yellowstone Canyon and other sights, we felt we were acclimated to the ~7,500 foot elevation and started out early in the morning on our primary hike. Our goal was the fire tower atop Mt. Washburn. By chance, we took the trail from Dunraven Pass rather than the Chittenden trail we had planned on. Although slightly longer, the trail from Dunraven proved to be much more scenic, despite the possibility of running into a bear. Another hiker was killed by a bear during our stay in the park! Our hike took longer than we planned, but that only made the beer[s] and dinner after the hike at Mammoth Hot Springs taste that much better. Although we had read that much of the underground plumbing at Mammoth Hot Springs had changed, it was still disappointing to see only the dry remains of the many fine travertine formations with water flowing over them that we remembered from our 1984 visit.
Over a period of two days we had a real treat from a vantage point in the Hayden Valley. Several other visitors has spotted one of Yellowstone's wolf packs that had singled out an ailing bison and proceeded to kill it. My telephoto was only able to capture fuzzy outlines, but other visitors willingly let us look through their high powered spotting scopes. The next day, from the same location, we were able to see a mother grizzly and her two cubs feeding off the carcass, after the mother had chased away the wolves. We saw a total of 3 eruptions of Old Faithful during our stay. Due to limitations on time, we were not able to spend as much time as we would have liked in the various geyser basins, but we did at least see the highlights. One of my personal accomplishments, was climbing up a hill to duplicate the uncluttered overview shot of Grand Prismatic Spring that I had seen on postcards.
On our last day in Yellowstone, we saw the grizzlies from the Hayden Valley lookout mentioned above. We planned to make just a quick stop at the West Thumb geyser area, but ended up spending over an hour. From there, we worked our way back down to the south entrance of the park, drove along the Rockefeller Parkway and settled in for the night at Colter Bay. This left us with only a 30 mile drive back to the Jackson Hole airport at 4:45 AM the next morning.
We can verify that the animals get up pretty early! Leaving Colter Bay at 4:45 AM we saw several groups of elk and mule deer near, but not on the road, as we drove to the airport. Then unfortunately, it was back to civilization. Jackson Hole to Denver to BWI and back to Newark. The only nice aspect of the BWI to Newark leg was that it was a clear day over a route I've driven for many years, so I enjoyed spotting landmarks and taking pictures of them from the air.