Thursday, June 30, 2011

Postcards from the Road (My Birthday Trip Part 3)

Getting the cabin for our last night in Yellowstone might have been the smartest decision we made during the entire trip. We were warm and rested on Tuesday, which meant we could properly enjoy Old Faithful.

Yellowstone National Park

Another rare treat, about ten minutes before Old Faithful went off, was the Beehive geyser. Old Faithful, I learned, is rare by being so predictable. Most of the geysers in the park go off quite randomly. The information for the Beehive geyser said that it goes off every 8-24 hours (for comparison, Old Faithful can be timed within 10 minutes). We walked right past it, and would have missed the eruption entirely if we'd picked a different vantage point for Old Faithful.

After touring the geysers and other thermal features around Old Faithful, we started to head south. The feeling of leaving the park was a little odd, since we'd packed up the campsite the night before.


After going through the south park entrance, we drove along the John. D. Rockefeller, Jr. Memorial Parkway and into the Grand Tetons National Park. Even though some clouds obscured the very tops of the peaks, these are some crazy impressive mountains. I could not get over the fact that the mountains were still covered in snow.

Grand Tetons National Park

The husbeast may have gone a little crazy with the camera.
Grand Tetons National Park

I'm not going to say it wasn't worth it!

We even decided where we'd camp, if we ever came back to stay overnight (this is a habit/quirk that I picked up from my parents). If you're ever driving through the park and only have a few hours like we did, I cannot recommend the visitor center at the Grand Tetons highly enough. It looks like it was all renovated yesterday. There are slick displays about the park's ecology, mountaineering, and history of that entire area (including why the road connecting Yellowstone to the Grand Tetons is named after JDR Jr.). The building itself is beautiful, too.

Grand Tetons National Park

The drive from the Grand Tetons took us through Jackson, WY and along an equally beautiful stretch of scenery. We popped out above the lovely Swan Valley right around sunset. We paused for one more photo before re-entering civilization.


We decided to spend the night in Idaho Falls so we could get more bread in the morning. Our drive home took another day and a half, taking us through Utah past Salt Lake City and the Bonneville Salt Flats. We spent our last night on the road in Reno, and returned home feeling simultaneously exhausted and rejuvenated.

In preparation for this trip, I read a little John Muir:

"Who publishes the sheet-music of the winds or the music of water written in river-lines?"

Yellowstone National Park

"Thousands of tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilized people are beginning to find out that going to the mountains is going home; that wildness is a necessity; and that mountain parks and reservations are useful not only as fountains of timber and irrigating rivers, but as fountains of life."

Yellowstone National Park

Yellowstone was amazing, and I feel so grateful to have the resources to see this part of the country at this point in my life. We knew where our limits were, and by braving some less-than-ideal weather we got to see the park at a really unique time of year. Wildflowers were in bloom, and we saw grizzly cubs and bison calves.

Yellowstone National Park

But I think next spring we should try Joshua Tree National Park.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Postcards from the Road (My Birthday Trip Part 2)

When we last left our intrepid heroine and hero, they were sleeping in a little motel in West Yellowstone. Stuffed with tasty barbecue and beer from a local restaurant, neither one slept incredibly well because it was snowing outside. Only little flurries, but still. It was snowing and they knew they were going to be spending the next few nights in a tent.

(I can hear everyone saying in their heads "Okay, enough with the dramatic foreshadowing!" I'll stop. Sorry about that.)

We were also nervous because we were heading into the park without a reserved spot in any specific campground. There were several good reasons for this, but the main one was that we wanted to camp in a smaller, quieter campground i.e., one where they don't allow the really big RVs. Nothing against RVs, but they are loud. All the smaller campgrounds were first-come-first-served, no reservations. So our plan was to get up fairly early to drive straight into the park, so we'd get our pick of campsites. Then we'd set up camp, and go get groceries and start exploring.

Yellowstone National Park

When you enter Yellowstone from the west, you drive through the Targhee National Forest. I'm still dying to know if the name is in any way related to the Targhee breed of sheep.

Our fears about the campground filling up were unfounded. We set up camp in the Norris campground, in one of the walk-in sites. A walk-in site might sound like a lot of work, but it really just meant that we carried our gear about 200 feet away from the campground road and got a little closer to the undeveloped part of the campground.

Yellowstone National Park

A beautiful little river winds back and forth through a little valley along one edge of Norris. The picture above is what it looked like on the day we arrived. By the end of our trip, the river was swollen with snowmelt and much of this muddy marshy ground would look smooth and glassy with the extra water.

Yellowstone National Park

Camping in Yellowstone was significantly different from most of my other camping experiences in a few ways. One was the wildlife, which Yellowstone has in abundance. We saw lots of bison (they were everywhere, and thrice we waited in a traffic jam for a herd to finish crossing the road:


We also saw a few yellow-bellied marmots, including this one who politely posed for us:

We saw elk:

and bears (!):

I'm pretty sure the bears were grizzlies, which is cool because I've never seen them in the wild before. It's hard to tell in the picture, but there's a mama bear and two cubs. We saw them on the warmest day of our trip, and they were pretty much just finding a sunny spot in the meadow for their mid-day nap.

The best wildlife experience we had was on Saturday morning. We woke up a bit late, and were finishing up our morning coffee when two little girls came up the path, squealing "Look, look!" and pointing out towards the river. We both turned just in time to see a fat, sleek river otter jump out of the river, run past the bend, and hop back in where it turned straight. There was no time for either of us to grab a camera. The girls' mom apologized to us for disturbing us, but I told her we wouldn't have seen the otter otherwise. I've never been camping and felt so surrounded by wildlife.

On the first two nights we heard wolves howling to each other.


Another difference was swimming: I can't remember a single childhood camping trip that did not involve swimming in rivers, lakes, or the Pacific Ocean. At Yellowstone in early June the rivers were all too cold (believe me, I checked), and the hot springs are off-limits (you can get burned by extremely hot water). And speaking of hot springs, another aspect of the park that I wasn't used to was the boardwalk-style trails around the thermal features. It made sense after reading the first warning sign about how the ground can be thin and fragile around a boiling hot spring (see aforementioned burn warnings), but this California native has always associated "real hiking" with unpaved trails through dense forest. The boardwalk trails felt a bit like cheating. Yellowstone, I later realized, is an old, and very well-developed and well-maintained park. We saw more than one wheelchair-bound person who was able to enjoy being immersed in nature because of those boardwalk trails.

So we spent the next four days exploring. Friday night was cold, but Saturday morning dawned clear and sunny. We saw the Yellowstone River, hiked along the huge canyon that cuts through the middle of the park, learned how to spot thermal features with our eyes and noses, and marveled at how much difference 1,000 feet of elevation makes. At the lower-elevation points in the park, it really felt like late spring, but one trail we tried to hike was too covered in snowdrifts for us to attempt it (the fact that it's called "Ice Lake" should probably have tipped us off). Originally, I'd thought that we would see if we could rent a canoe and row out on Lake Yellowstone, but that was also not in the cards:

Yellowstone National Park

Sunday was definitely the hottest day, but "hottest" just meant that I didn't have to layer leggings under my jeans until the sun went down. Monday was my actual birthday, so we planned for a long (for us) hike and a nice dinner at one of the lodges. The weather looked nice again, although the forecast for Tuesday was not promising. We packed trail mix, hard-boiled eggs, apples, and lots of water, and did a very strenuous (again, for us) climb up to this lovely lake:

Yellowstone National Park

After the hike we relaxed with the thought that we wouldn't have to wash dinner dishes in the dark, but we could also smell damp in the air. The weather forecast was a 70% chance of rain. And the lodge was at lower elevation than our campsite, so if it rained there we might get snowed on overnight. Every night so far, I'd worn the following to sleep in: long johns, flannel pj pants, knee-high wool socks, a tank top, a long-sleeved shirt, and a wool sweater. All this inside a sleeping bag rated for 10ºF. The thought of it getting even colder that night... but we're campers! Husbeast is an eagle scout! We've both been camping for as long as we can remember, surely we're not THAT spoiled by California weather, right?

I'll cut to the chase. We woke up to this view from the cabin on Tuesday morning:


We may be spoiled, but damn it felt good to take a hot shower and sleep really soundly that night. Stay tuned for Part 3, the journey home!

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Postcards from the Road (My Birthday Trip Part 1)

(Note: Originally, this was going to be one post but it got too long. Today, you get the first two days of our trip. Stay tuned for wildlife, knitting, and camping adventures!)

For my birthday this year, the husbeast and I decided we were going to hit up a few national parks and go camping. The plan was to drive east, turning up through Idaho for a while, and ending up in Yellowstone National Park. We'd camp for four or five days, enough to thoroughly explore the park. For the return trip, we'd drive south through the Grand Tetons and then back through Utah and Nevada. On the first day of the trip, we pretty much just drove across California and Nevada, only stopping for meals and gas. I don't have any pictures of Nevada because, let's face it, the landscape is probably the most boring we encountered during the entire trip. What I got instead of scenery was lots of time to knit while the husbeast drove.

The weather reports were calling for overnight lows in the 30s, and the possibility of rain and even snow while we were at Yellowstone (where the elevation varies from 6500-8000 feet). So while driving through the Nevada desert, I made sure we'd be prepared for Yellowstone:

Hurry-up Hat & mitts

For the husbeast, a hat and some fingerless mitts (good for keeping the hands warm while allowing finger movement for taking photos). The yarn is Hello Yarn Polwarth wool in the "Cauldron" colorway.

Hurry-up Hat #2

I made myself a hat (but no mitts) out of Fleece Artist Aran wool. I'm calling these our "hurry-up" hats because I was so keen to finish them before we got to Yellowstone. The pattern is based on Jared Flood's Turn a Square hat, except with fewer starting stitches, enough length to turn up the ribbed brim (for extra ear warmth), and no stripes. Perfect car knitting!

Yellowstone National Park

In case you're wondering, they do keep one's head nicely warm, but provide no protection against buffalo.

But I'm getting ahead of myself. In between bouts of hat knitting, I also worked on this a bit:

Blue Owls Quilt

More on that later! On the second day, we made a few stops. The first one was for Craters of the Moon National Monument in Idaho,

Craters of the Moon National Monument

where it was a little cold:

Owl Cowl

It was snowing when we arrived, so we wandered through the visitor center until it cleared up. We drove through the park, got out and walked around a bit.

Craters of the Moon National Monument

The landscape is breathtaking and weird.

Craters of the Moon National Monument

We both agreed that Idaho is significantly more interesting to drive through than Nevada (sorry Nevada).


After eating our lunch as quickly as possible (so it wouldn't get cold), we drove for another stretch and stopped in Idaho Falls for coffee and the only yarn shop along our route on that day. Yarn Connection is a delightful shop, and while they don't have a website, you can get an idea of what it looks like from the flickr set in the link. The shop owner Tish was very helpful (and pointed me to some interesting yarn), and the other knitters directed us to great coffee at the local Great Harvest bakery. Fortified, we finished the second day of the drive and wound up in West Yellowstone, where we spent our second night on the road before going into Yellowstone proper. I'll report on the park itself (and our adventures therein) in the next post!

P.S. By the way, you see that cowl ? Here's what it looks like up close:

Owl Cowl

It was a birthday gift from fellow knitblogger and Purl Jammer Pink Viking, and did a fantastic job keeping my neck warm throughout the trip.