After months of tweaking the itinerary, we were finally ready to head west on our epic, 5 ½ month road trip. We pulled out of our driveway in Okeechobee, FL early Sunday morning with the plan to arrive at our Airbnb in Big Sky, MT on Thursday.
We built in a little extra time for sightseeing, including stops in Tupelo, MS at Elvis’s birthplace, a Graceland drive-by,
And the 27-mile scenic tour of South Dakota’s Badlands.
You can view photos of our quickie trip though the Badlands here:
It was a long time to be in the car, but there was no traffic and 2,800 miles later we arrived in Big Sky as scheduled.
Domenick’s condo could not have been more perfect for us AND Oscar & Maddie. We had plenty of room to spread out and since it was a corner unit, plenty of privacy.
It was located at the base of Lone Mountain, which offered us gorgeous views every time we stepped outdoors.
You can find Domenick’s condo on the Airbnb website here:
Yellowstone is as beautiful as they say – awe-inspiring around every curve of the road and unlike anywhere else on the planet.
But at 2.2 million acres, it is also massive. We spent our first week simply driving around, getting an idea of where everything was located and identifying the places we wanted to explore in depth.
The weather was perfect: the mornings started chilly, but it warmed up nicely with blue skies and plenty of sunshine each afternoon. The fall colors had started to turn,
And the rivers were full of fly-fishermen. They made for such good subjects it was impossible to not snap a photo or two as we drove along.
There is an affordable audio tour app called GyPSy Guide, which I had purchased for Yellowstone & Grand Teton.
It proved to be an excellent way to navigate around the park and also hear enriching facts and stories as we drove along.
According to our Gypsy guide, the Madison River sees over 200,000 angler days per year –that’s an average of almost six hundred anglers Every. Single. Day! p.s. We named the narrator “Edward” after our wonderful guide in South Africa.
We also spent one day driving around the west side of the Tetons, over the pass, through Grand Teton NP, and then home via Yellowstone.
Given my absolute terror of heights, it was all I could do to snap the few pics I did while on Teton Pass. I was too busy breathing into a paper bag and eating crybaby pie.
It made for a long, nine-hour day (O & M are SUCH troopers!!)
But we were rewarded with gorgeous views of the mountains from both the west and east sides.
And at the end of the day, we spied a group of male moose grazing in a meadow alongside the road. Just that quick, my life count for moose jumped from zero to three!
The first thing most people think about when they hear “Yellowstone” is Old Faithful. But the park is made up of over 10,000 hydrothermal features including geysers, beautifully colored hot springs, steaming fumaroles, and boiling mud pots. The land is truly wild! Instead of racing through the park, trying to see as many features as we possibly could, we chose to visit places we had targeted to thoroughly explore:
Upper Geyser Basin, which has the most concentrated grouping of hydrothermal features in the world, including Old Faithful.
We stayed long enough to see Old Faithful erupt three different times, from three different vantage points.
On our 6-mile hike around the Upper Basin, we also saw Anemone, Spasmodic, and Beehive Geysers erupt.
We walked as far as Morning Glory Pool, which is sadly fading due to all the coins and other items people keep throwing into the center.
Midway Geyser Basin, home to the Grand Prismatic Spring, third largest hot spring in the world, and Excelsior Geyser.
We even managed the one-mile hike up to the Grand Prismatic Overlook.
A beautiful afternoon at the Fountain Paint Pots in the Lower Geyser Basin, with views of all four of Yellowstone’s hydrothermal features: geysers, hot springs, mud pots, and fumaroles.
And a full day at Mammoth Hot Springs, with its amazing travertine terraces.
You can view all of our hydrothermal photos here:
Of course, Yellowstone is also all about the wildlife! I kept a count of all the animals and birds we spied and for “too many to count” I put an “X.”
By noon on our first day, bison were already an “X.” They are everywhere!
One afternoon we received intel that Yellowstone’s celebrity grizzly bears, “Raspberry” and her cub, “Jam” had been spotted in the eastern section of the park. Raspberry is a 15-year-old sow with a history of keeping her cubs longer than usual. Typically, around two years bear cubs are on their own so that the mother can mate again, but in the spring of 2022, Raspberry and 2 1/2-year-old Jam were still seen together.
After a bit of detective work, we determined the general area. As we rounded a curve, we knew we were in the right place: a crowd of 150+ armed with big-lens cameras and binocs were all pointed in the same direction.
Sure enough, Raspberry and Jam were there – a good 200 yards away and in harsh mid-day light but a thrill, nonetheless.
And as if that were not enough, on our drive home we spotted a mountain goat, grazing high up on the side of a hill. What a magical, mystical end to our day!
TG had been battling a cough and a friend suggested it might be allergies. So, one Sunday afternoon we drove down the mountain for some local honey – a good home remedy. And on the way, we came upon a moose family grazing right by the side of the road!
Besides beautifully terraced hot springs, Mammoth is also home to dozens of elk who like to hang out around the buildings and nicely manicured lawns. But that doesn’t mean they are in any way tame. Rangers are posted everywhere, reminding you to keep your distance.
On our way home that day we spied three more moose: a bull who was doing his best to hit on two cows, neither of which wanted anything to do with him. But Oscar and Maddie had been in the kennel since early morning, so we had to hurry home before the grand finale — if there even was one.
You can view all of our wildlife photos here:
Between all the rivers, waterfalls, lakes, and deep canyons that make up Yellowstone National Park, there are wildly beautiful landscapes everywhere you turn.
Artist’s Point is an iconic “must-photograph” image. It is a glorious waterfall that drops 308ft into the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone.
Hayden and Lamar Valleys have sweeping open plains with huge herds of bison and other animals,
Firehole River was named by early trappers for the rising steam which makes it look like it’s on fire.
And is one of only two places inside the park where you can actually swim!
And Yellowstone Lake, the largest lake above 7,000 feet in North America. Research has found that if one could empty all the water out of Yellowstone Lake, the bottom is similar to what is found on the land: geysers, hot springs, and deep canyons.
We also spent a day driving to Upper Mesa Falls, located about an hour west of Yellowstone. A wooden boardwalk lets you get so close you can feel the mist from the spray!
And another delightful afternoon hiking to Ousel Falls, located in Big Sky.
You can view all of our landscape photos here:
“Animal Jams” are a quintessential part of Yellowstone. The animals in the park roam free, and that means they sometimes use the same roads we drive on.
On any given day, at any given time, in any given place you are likely to encounter stopped traffic. But it’s all part of the park’s experience so you just enjoy it — and try not to get frustrated!
We had been in the Yellowstone area for a month and thus far blessed with unseasonably mild weather: warm days with plenty of blue skies and bright sunshine. But the forecast for the weekend of Oct 22 and into the following week did not look good. We decided to take advantage of what might be our last warm, sunny day and drive down to Grand Teton for some landscape shots.
It’s a long 4-hour drive in good weather so we also booked an overnight at the Cowboy Village in Jackson.
We spent all day Friday in the park, shooting landscapes
And all the wildlife we happened upon. In that one day of driving around, we saw a big male grizzly bear, a very dark gray wolf, a bald eagle, nine different moose (yes!!), a coyote, a ruffed grouse, and a little black bear.
Old Man Winter showed up with a vengeance on Saturday morning.
It took us 7 1/2 hours to get home. Part of that was driving below the speed limit on snowy, mountain roads. But we also sat for an hour in a “snow jam.” Someone had slid off the road and the rangers stopped traffic in both directions while we all waited for the tow truck. When the guilty car finally came by (his “drive of shame”) we saw it was a Range Rover of all things! I guess the guy got overly confident.
In spite of the wild drive home, it was well worth the trip!
Before we left Florida, I had already penciled this episode as “Walk on the Wild Side” for the “Wild West” and “wildlife” connotations. But between the wildly fantastic hydrothermal features of the park,
All the wildly beautiful landscapes,
All the wildlife we saw, and the wild weather our last time driving through the park, our 32 nights in Yellowstone were indeed a Walk on the Wild Side!
If you haven’t gotten enough photos, you can also check out our entire Flickr albums, which include pics not in any of the above categories as well as all of TG’s beautiful panoramas.
Coming next: Westward Ho(ly Cow) Episode 2 “The Grand Splurge”