In addition to Yellowstone National Park, I spent some time in Grand Teton National Park. My drives to and from the parks were also very enjoyable and scenic.
by MilwVon on July 23, 2012
For many visitors to Yellowstone National Park, Cody is the last main town before finally arriving at the park. It is about 50 miles east of Yellowstone and makes for a nice spot to start or end your Yellowstone vacation. For me, it was another drive-through location, as I had left Yellowstone around 4:00pm on a Saturday afternoon.Heading out of the East Entrance area, the drive is actually quite beautiful. I think even better than the route I took to get to the park, coming up from the south and into Grand Teton National Park. There were huge rock and cliff formations as well as rivers and swiftly moving creeks. The waterfalls streaming down the hillside along the road were worth a stop for photos when the opportunities presented themselves.Before reaching Cody, there is the Buffalo Bill State Park. It was a vast area largely consisting of a campground and boating area on the Shoshone River. The dam that creates the reservoir is a USPS National Historic Site, but they were getting ready to close when I arrived just before 5:00pm. I did stop by to check it out, but did not have time enough to take the self-guided tour. Admission was free, with a $3 fee for the audio headset for the tour.From there I headed on into the Town of Cody. I knew I had arrived as I passed the Cody Stampede Rodeo Grounds on the outskirts of town. I briefly contemplated stopping in Cody for the night in order to attend that evening's 8:00pm rodeo, but felt I really should push on and try to make the most of the daylight driving time.In the town, there were a number of western themed museums and attractions. Everything was closed, even the local visitors' center. This place really looked like an interesting place for a family to spend a day learning about the American west and the history of Buffalo Bill Cody. As I stated, many visitors to Yellowstone start or end their trip with a night here, which I can completely understand. For me, it just wasn't as convenient to do so . . . so this will also be added to my "next time" list for this area.
Because I was primarily looking to spend my time in Yellowstone National Park, I did want to check out Grand Teton National Park (GTNP) as well. Connected by the John D. Rockefeller Parkway, the two parks almost feel like one. I do like to mountain beauty of Grand Teton and Lake Jackson, plus for those who enjoy biking, it would seem the bike paths and roads are flatter and more conducive for a leisurely ride through the park.There are three entrances into the park; the northern one that connects with Yellowstone, the Moran Junction Entrance from the east and the Moose Junction from the Jackson Hole (southern) area. Park admission to GTNP is included in the fee you pay for Yellowstone NP and vice versa. So $25 covers you in both parks for seven days. Of course those who have the NPS/BLM Annual Pass ($80) are admitted free.Visitor centers are located at the Moose Junction and Colter Bay Village area and have several nice exhibits and ranger led programs. In addition to basic convenience stores available throughout the park, there are also a couple of gas stations. During my visit I found the gas to be cheaper at the Colter Bay location. The other location for gas is at Signal Mountain.If you wish to stay inside the park, there are a couple of lodges with restaurants available to make your stay more enjoyable. There are also several campgrounds including one that has special corrals for those traveling with horses. While I had initially planned on camping one night in the park, I was done with my visiting early enough in the afternoon to return back to Yellowstone and later start my return drive home.Regarding wildlife, the best opportunity to view moose is here. I was clued into a nice viewing area where bull moose are known to feed. Sure enough when I made my turn down the Pilgrim Creek Road, I saw the cars parked along the road and people out with cameras and spotting scopes.I saw a few deer in the park, including a young male drinking water in a creek. I have heard that there is a wolf pack that resides in Grand Teton NP, but I did not see them. There were also reports of bears in the park on the day that I arrived, requiring the closure of one of the campgrounds. I didn't see bear here either, which was a disappointment.There is a bison herd that can be observed on the Antelope Flats Road in the southernmost area of the park. During my trip through the area, they were pretty far away. This is the area of the park where the 1890's Morman settlement is located. Along "Morman Row" are several of the original buildings, including the Moultan Barn are located within walking distance of Antelope Flats Road. All in all, for my interests, it was easy to do the park in two half day drives. For others who want to avail themselves to the hiking, biking and rafting opportunities; I could see GTNP being a multi-day visit.
My original plan was to "boondock" in the Gillette, WY Walmart parking lot, but when I arrived to Gillette it was still daylight and it just didn't feel right to sleep in my van in a open parking lot. Boondocking is a widely practiced camping experience among the RV set and with more privacy, it works. For me, however, I needed an alternative. When I stopped for gas I asked the clerk about my route to Yellowstone as well as possible campgrounds a couple of hours down the road. She suggested the KOA in Buffalo, commenting "After that, it's pretty sparse for hours and it will be too dark to find somewhere to just pull off the road." That convinced me to set the KOA as my target for the night.I arrived in Buffalo at 8:00pm, about an hour before their office closed. I was able to get a car/tent site for $27 which included a 10% AARP discount and all taxes. Considering that the price included showers and free WiFi, I was very pleased. Before heading back to my campsite, I did make use of the electricity in the main office area to charge up my notebook computer and to charge a couple of camera batteries. Hooked up to the internet, I chatted with David and posted a few photos on my Facebook page.In the morning I made good use of the showers and hit the road by daybreak. I enjoyed my stay here so much, that I set it as my return trip home campsite destination. Since I was a returning guest, they gave me the "advance reservation" price less the AARP discount so my total price was just under $24. Outstanding!The Twin Creeks Campground was an independent location, only recently affiliating with the KOA brand. They have a very nice location with roughly 65 sites, convenient to I90 and the major routes to Yellowstone National Park. On their campsite map, they indicate they are 238 miles from Mt. Rushmore and 244 miles from Yellowstone.Other amenities include a recreation/game room, children's playground, a decent sized swimming pool and "Kamping Kabins" for those who don't want to rough it too much. There are RV sites have full hook ups (water, electric), cable TV connections and there is a dump station at the front of the property. Propane is also available for purchase. In the bathroom/shower building there is also a coin operated launderette. In their office area, there is also a small store that had convenience size packaged foods, beverages and ice.For those who arrive after 9:00pm, there is a late check-in area. Folks are asked to register and deposit their camp fee in the secured box. I suppose they verify who has checked in over night to make sure there is no freeloading.All in all, this was a very nice camp facility that I would have no problem staying at again in the future!
Yellowstone National Park was created as our first US National Park by Ulysses S. Grant in 1872. Today it receives more than two million visitors annually, with July being the busiest month. Like many other National Park Service (NPS) designated parks, Yellowstone offers a plethora of tourist convenience services including hotels, campgrounds, restaurants and lots tour activities. With five entrances into the park and nine visitor center throughout, there are a lot of opportunities to meet with rangers and learn about the park's diverse features and attractions.Perhaps most famous are the geothermal areas that include geysers, boiling pots and hot springs. Old Faithful is the most well known of these, particularly because of the predictive nature of its eruptions. There are several other lesser known predicted geysers, to include the largest and most spectacular Great Fountain Geyser.Some of the geysers go off very frequently (I saw the White Cone erupt several times over the course of a couple of hours) while others are rare and haven't been seen in years. Although Steamboat Geyser hasn't had a true eruption skyward in years, a brief visit to it will provide an opportunity to watch it spurt and gurgle continuously.Several of the hot springs and boiling pots have a high sulfur content, so if you are susceptible to the fumes as I am, you are best advised to avoid them or make sure you visit is very limited in areas where your breathing may be adversely affected.Many people travel to Yellowstone due to the diversity in fauna and flora. The wildlife and beautiful flowers are worth the time to observe and photograph. It has been said that Yellowstone is the Serengeti of the United States. If we were to have a designated "big five" I would guess it would be 1) bison, 2) elk, 3) bears (black and/or brown/grizzly, 4) pronghorn and 5) wolves. I was fortunate to see all but the wolves. I heard about sightings during my time in the park; I just wasn't in the right place at the right time in spite of my best efforts.Perhaps the moose and coyote are in the big five? I did read that the bighorn sheep are in the "winter big five" so I guess I really don't know if there is an official list or not. I was fortunate to see many of the species known to reside in the park, I was very happy with the photos I was able to capture.As for the flora, the wildflowers were in bloom throughout the park providing a beautiful splash of color throughout. One area where I saw the most diversity was up along the Blacktail Plateau loop road between Roosevelt & Mammoth. I've included several photos from that drive with this review.One cannot visit the park and not notice the affects of wildfires in the park. Being a particularly hot and dry summer already, the park and surrounding areas were on high danger alert for fire. Restrictions were in place as they pertained to the use of campfires. Some fires, are however started by nature in the form of lightning strikes. When that occurs, the fires are permitted to burn their own natural course, as long as people and property (like the villages and lodges) are not at risk.The cycle of fire is a natural occurrence and through it new forest and trees are seeded. The worst fire in park history was in 1988 when several fires burned for nearly a month, destroying nearly 800,000 acres (approximately 1,300 square miles) within the park. While there is always concern for the loss of wildlife during fire, it was reported that in 1988 very few animals died. Today's fire management practices are largely based on what was learned during the fires of 1988.Visitors to Yellowstone National Park have a wealth of recreational opportunities. Fishing and horseback riding are very popular, as are rafting, kayaking and boating. Hiking is probably the number one activity, with trails and back country options found throughout the park.There are tours available through the park's official concessionaire Xanterra as well as other outside operators. I passed by the large yellow buses several times during my visit. I also saw the horse drawn wagons taking guests out for a real western cookout near Roosevelt Lodge.I had a great time during my five days inside the park and got to see and experience a lot of what is available to visitors. That said, it is impossible to see everything, so I am already looking forward to my next trip to Yellowstone National Park!
by MilwVon on July 21, 2012
Tuesday July 10thAfter a good night's sleep, I was up and ready for a nice hot shower in the KOA campground. It's probably been over 25 years since my last KOA stay; this reminded me of just how nice their locations are. This particular campground only recently affiliated with KOA having been an independent for many years operating as Twin Creek Campground.In addition to the great showers and restrooms, they offer a children's playground and decent size swimming pool. Hook-ups are available for RVs and there is complimentary WiFi (which I took advantage of the night before to contact home and post a few photos on Facebook).After showering and getting dressed, I was ready to hit the road at 6:15am. From Buffalo, WY I had two options in terms of routes . . . I90 through to Cody and into the east entrance at Yellowstone . . . or the more scenic route via US20 connecting to US26 that continued on into Grand Teton National Park via the Moran Junction. Road signage encouraged travelers to take the "safer and more scenic route" on US20 so that was what I did. While there was a lot of beautiful scenery and some wildlife (mostly deer), the road was under construction at several places resulting in significant delays as the two lane road was brought to single lane driving, complete with miles of pilot car escorting over a gravel road. I did stop to watch a small herd of pronghorn sheep along the Wind River between Riverton & Dubois.I enjoyed my drive through Ten Sleep, WY with their population of 260 and four saloons. Just outside of town was a park with a lovely lake. This photo is actually the pano-merging of six individual frames to make this one image of the full lake. The water was still, so it also provided the reflective image of the hills and trees surrounding it.I arrived at Grand Teton National Park (GTNP) at 2:00pm, which allowed me a nice leisurely drive through the park, first heading south towards Jackson Hole. My interests in that area were the Antelope Flats Road and Morman Row, given their distance from Yellowstone and my desire to make my trip out of Yellowstone limited to the more northern areas of Grand Teton. Morman Row is a settlement that dates back to 1892 with several of the original buildings still standing. One that is often photographed is the Moultan Barn, which has the nice backdrop of the Teton Mountains behind it.Antelope Flats is known as a wildlife viewing area. As with my prior day in South Dakota, viewing bison required the binoculars as they were at quite a distance away from the gravel road. The photos I took were unimpressive, requiring 2-4x zoom plus cropping to make out what animal I had photographed. Bah-humbug!Having researched prices of gasoline prior to leaving home, I knew high prices ($3.999) awaited me in Yellowstone so my plan was to buy at Moran Junction. Unfortunately "Gas Buddy" had a bad reporting for the Phillips 66 station outside the park, so I by-passed them. Now inside GTNP and needing to top off, I was at the mercy of pricing. Fortunately, the Signal Mountain convenience store was "just" $3.819 so I filled up there. That was good enough to get me through until Thursday when I also had planned for an "out of the park" morning in Gardiner, MT for breakfast at a cafe with free WiFi plus gas fill-up at what was expected to be around $3.699.While in GTNP, I did make a stop in the visitor center at the south entrance of Moose Junction. Heading back north towards Yellowstone, I saw a cute young male deer in the lake at Moran Junction. I arrived at Grant Campground around 6:30pm, where I had a reservation for the night. It was pretty cool to be welcomed at the entrance to Grant Village by an elk and her young calf. My campsite was well shaded and near the bathrooms, so I was very happy with the location.
Saturday July 14thI woke up early (5:30am) and was ready to hit the road after my good-byes with Nanc. She was actually up before me and ready to get moving first, so it worked out just about perfectly. As I did my last check of our cabin, I pondered what I would do with my day. Originally, my plan was to stay in the parks through the weekend and head home Monday in order to be home Tuesday night.I felt as though I had already had several great days of wildlife viewing, even if I had not seen the illusive wolves in either Hayden or Lamar. I had also not yet seen a moose, but I had what I thought was a good lead on locating them, down in Grand Teton NP which was my initial plan for tonight's overnight.I opted for the most direct route to GTNP, which would have me heading towards Tower and over the Dunraven Pass one more time. I did see a couple of blacktail deer near Tower. I also stopped in Hayden Valley "just in case" something was around to be seen. When I reached Canyon Village I was actually feeling hungry and wanting a real breakfast . . . you know, eggs, meat, toast. I remembered the breakfast hours at the Canyon Soda Fountain, and realized they would not be open for at least another hour, so I pushed on towards Lake Village.I stopped at the lovely Lake Lodge where there is a decent enough cafeteria where you can pick and choose ala carte. That seemed to fit the bill for my cravings just right. Admittedly, I over-ordered, but that was OK as it allowed me to make a sandwich for later in the day. The food was delicious in spite of not being piping hot. I couldn't believe how great a bottle of orange juice could taste!The view over Yellowstone Lake was beautiful. It was quiet and serene, especially since there were very few people up and around at 7:00am. After breakfast, I headed to the West Thumb Geyser Basin to take a couple more photos. The first time I had been through this area the sun was just rising and it was really too dark to get decent photographs of some of the boiling pots and other features in this area.Before leaving Yellowstone, I wanted to find out about the eruption prediction for the Great Fountain Geyser . . . you know, the one I waited for hours to see, only to later find out it went of early that morning. I stopped in at the Grant Visitor Center to inquire. The geyser had already gone off that morning around 6:00am so it was now predicted for 6:00pm plus or minus two hours. As much as I wanted to witness that event, it didn't seem worthwhile to hang around all day and overnight in Yellowstone to accommodate possibly seeing it, so I set about a plan that would have me leaving the area later in the afternoon.I again saw one of the resident bull elk at the Grant Village junction. From Grant Village, I continued on south to the John D. Rockefeller Parkway that connects Yellowstone NP with Grand Teton NP. Along that stretch of road I saw several deer, all passively watching traffic pass as they grazed on the morning dew moistened grasses.Arriving at the Colter Bay Visitor Center, I stopped in to get what would be the last of my NPS Passport stamps. I also asked the young ranger inside about wildlife viewing and bear sightings. He was not very helpful, giving the standard "bears are everywhere out there" response. OK - thanks!As I exited Colter Bay Village I did swing through the gas station to make note of the price as I knew I'd be needing fuel later in the day. At $3.579 it was going to be the cheapest in either of the parks, so this was the spot I stopped back later in the day to top off my tank.(con't. next page)
Saturday July 14th (con't)Earlier in the week, I met a couple from Portage, Wisconsin. In talking about the wildlife we'd seen, I was envious that he had seen moose. He told me that he had been told of a marsh area just beyond Colter Bay down the Pilgrim Creek Road. Sure enough, when I made the left-hand turn, I could see a number of cars pulled to the shoulder, and several people out walking into the willows. There was also a tour company with guests watching. Their driver/guide was explaining to folks about the moose habitat and that the bull moose in this area were getting ready for rut season next month.From the vantage point that I had, I could barely see the moose they were talking about. One man had hiked deep into the willow to get his photos with what appeared to be a 600mm lens. He was shooting without a tripod. All I could think was "good luck with that" as I have my challenges with my 70-300 lens at roughly a third of the weight. As the two large bull moose continued to eat, they worked their way into a small clearing. They didn't seem to be bothered much by the group of 10 or 12 people observing them. Surprisingly, there were only a couple of us interested in or trying to photograph the animals.After spending some time with the moose and getting a nice selection of photos, I felt amazingly fulfilled in terms of my desired wildlife photography. I decided to make the drive further into GTNP for what I hoped would be some interesting photos of the mountains and lake, and then I would head back to Yellowstone.I enjoyed my drive through GTNP to include the Jenny Lake area. With more people now awake, and it being a Saturday morning, the roads seemed quite crowded with people, cars and bicycles. It should be noted that if you enjoy bike riding out in the wild, this park is a great place to do that! There are numerous trails and bike paths; many of which are are relatively flat terrain. I did take the drive up to the Signal Mountain Summit, which had a nice view from the top. I was surprised to see so many cyclists heading to the top of what was a rather lengthy, winding road.So back in Yellowstone, my plan was to exit the park through the East Entrance towards Cody. That drive would have me passing by the Mud Volcano area again, so I also stopped there to get some photos (and video) of one of the more active gushing hot springs. I also made a brief stop at the Sulfur Caldron, another very stinky area that I had previously passed before the sun was up.As I exited Yellowstone NP, it was 4:00pm. I wondered about how far I would be able to make it before having to stop for the night. I considered the National Forest campgrounds just outside of the park, but realized that would have me stopping for the night before 6:00pm which seemed like a waste. I pushed on, enjoying the views as I passed through areas known for their bear population. I didn't see any, however, but I did stop along the way to photograph some of the lovely waterfalls that were seen coming out of the side of the mountains along the roadside. Around 4:45pm I was approaching the Buffalo Bill Reservoir and Dam. I stopped in for a quick visit at the NPS Visitor Center, as they were getting ready to close at 5:00pm. This is a National Historic Site and open to the public seven days a week and is free. I wish I had more time to explore and take the self-guided tour.Moving on, the town of Cody, Wyoming was just minutes away. I first saw the infamous Buffalo Bill Cody Stampede Rodeo Grounds and considered over-nighting in Cody in order to take in the evening's show. But since it was only 5:30pm and the show wasn't until 8:00pm, I didn't want to just hang around, especially since as I drove through town, it was apparent the other attractions were already closed for the day. Looking back at it as I write this a week later, I'm sorta sorry I didn't stay and experience a real western rodeo.In Cody I did make a call home to David to let him know I was on the road and heading home. I thought it might be possible to make it back to the nice KOA in Buffalo, Wyoming and that was my plan. I did some quick calculating, figuring that if I could make it that far, that would leave me with around 18 hours of driving to get home sometime on Monday.During my drive on through Wyoming, it was nice to be taking a different route east. This routing not only took me through Cody, but it also avoided all of the construction that I drove through going west. I also got to see a lot of free range livestock including cattle and sheep near Graybull. It was still very hot, with temperatures still in the high 90's at 6:30pm.I jumped on I90 at Sheridan and was able to make the rest of the drive to the Buffalo KOA. I checked in just before the office closed at 9:00pm. Completed zonked from the 500+ miles driven today, I was ready for bed. I did try to access the free WiFi from my campsite but being on the far backside of the property, the signal was too weak to connect.I feel asleep to the DJ spinning wedding music at the hotel next door. Yep that's right . . . there was an outdoor wedding reception next door with music blasting into the Wyoming night. Ah how I already miss the sounds of nature in Yellowstone!
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