#NationalParkGeek - Yellowstone & Grand Tetons

For my birthday, I have started taking on the tradition of going places - 'cause that's one of my all time favorite things to do. So, why not treat myself at the ultimate time of the year TO treat myself - my birthday! Last year, I went to Portland and got to hang out around the Oneonta Gorge with my best friend. This year, I met some friends up in Wyoming at Yellowstone National Park! Heck yeah!

Yellowstone has been on my list for quite some time, so when they told me when they were going to be in the park, I knew I had to find a way to get there. I left on Saturday morning, and returned Monday night, from Burbank to Bozeman, with a layover in Salt Lake City. I rented a car from ACE so I knew I could have freedom if I needed it - and also not to burden my friends getting me to and from places (like the airport, haha).

Side note: Has anyone ever flown over or into Salt Lake City? The Great Salt Lake is such a view from above! I had to ask the nice woman next to me to make sure I knew what I was seeing!

After getting my car, I started the drive from Bozeman to the north entrance of Yellowstone. I absolutely love driving in different places - being able to really take in the backroads is important to me. Again, back to the journey, not everything is about the destination! The wide open spaces (cue Dixie Chicks), animals, small in-between towns - all of it is so beautiful to me. I would say drives like this are definitely taken for granted.

We were going to first meet up at Boiling River. However, upon entering the park, I saw a huge sign saying that Boiling River was closed! I guess the amount of snow melt made the river too high and therefore dangerous to play around in. We back tracked a little to the front entrance, took a photo at the Roosevelt Arch, and headed South towards Madison Campground, stopping at several places along the way!

I was really looking forward to swimming in the rivers and lakes - I had no idea how cold it was actually going to be until I got there. The 3 bathing suits I packed could’ve been traded out for a thicker jacket and gloves! I guess it means I’ll have to come back another summer.

Our first stop heading toward the campground, Mammoth Hot Springs! Man, did this place smell. Of course, hot springs are teeming with sulphur and algae - which is what gives them their color - but I could've used a personal, portable air freshener at this stop ;)

The little village surrounding Mammoth Hot Springs was very cute - it seems like a great area to spend time in at the shops and terrace. The views as you make the climb up are also worth taking a look at. 

There are also some small, right off the road waterfalls that are easy to miss. At Golden Gate, I believe there’s Rustic Falls - there are pull-offs to see the falls, but they aren’t visibly labeled from the road. 

We pulled off to the Nymph Lake overlook, Norris Geyser Basin, Artists Paintpots (bubbling mud) & Gibbon Falls before heading to the campsite to cook dinner & s’mores.

One of my absolute favorite things about the Geysers and Hot Springs, is how much they remind me of resin paintings and marbling. It is so cool and beautiful the colors and textures that nature creates, all on its own. Guess that’s where we get a lot of our inspiration from, right? I know being outdoors and in these environments is a huge inspiration for me - creatively and mindfully. It clears my head and reminds me that the little things aren’t as important as I think they are - and that the way the back of my head looks when I miss some spots with my curling iron ISN’T the end of the world. But, I do look like a goof - and that’s okay!

As you’re driving, keep your eyes peeled for the MANY animals (and their babies!) roaming the park. Of course, you’ll see Buffalo - but we were so fortunate to see a Moose, a Bull Elk, a Wolf, two Fox, many Deer, Coyotes, an Osprey, Pronghorns & BEARS! Most of our luck was at Lamar Valley - early, early the next morning. We woke up when it was still dark outside to drive a couple hours (yes, Yellowstone is a lot of driving) East to Lamar Valley. This spot, and Hidden Valley, are THE spots to catch the animals. We saw a ton! Most of the animals mentioned above, we saw that morning in Lamar Valley. 

While we were East, we made sure to stop at Tower Falls, the Petrified Tree and the Lower Falls of the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone. Unfortunately, a main road was closed due to a sinkhole, so we didn’t have time to drive the whole loop around the catch Lower Falls from the other side, conquer Uncle Tom’s Trail or see Upper Falls. Summer time trip, I’ve already started planning!

We were exhausted from the early morning, so we headed back toward camp to nap in our hammocks and have an earlier dinner (& s’mores, duh)! On the way in to Madison, every time we passed a particular section, there were always a ton of people with their telephoto lenses trying to catch a glimpse of a mama bear and her cubs. We had stopped once or twice and only caught small sights, so we ventured out after dinner to see if they were still there. Unfortunately, mama had gone up into the woods and the crowds had cleared, so we went back to our fire and to catch some z’s.

The next morning was our last few hours together and we saved the closest sites for this time. I wanted to make it down to Grand Teton before my flight out of Bozeman at 6 and they were headed to Reno & San Francisco (and then to the Dominican Republic - yea we’re all jealous). 

We were able to hit Lower Geyser Basin Fountain Paint Pots, Midway Geyser Basin with Grand Prismatic, Biscuit Basin and of course, Old Faithful.

Real quick rant: What even are Geysers?! I mean, I know what they are, now. But walking around all these basins I felt like I was on Mars, or some other planet, or maybe in the middle of a Jurassic Park Scene. Every which way you looked, there was steam coming up from the ground. Steam! Earth, what’s wrong?! It’s all natural and crazy and absolutely awesome. Science!

In other nature news: it isn’t always what we see in photos and at first it totally sucks! I think we were all initially disappointed in Grand Prismatic. Due to the chilly weather, there was so much steam, we barely got a glimpse of the edge and the prism of colors we’ve all seen in photos. But, even we talked about that this is nature - not a movie or just a site to see - and that’s the beauty of it! It is always different and always changing.

If we had had time, there was a trail that took you to get a look above, so that’s also on the list for next time. 

As for Old Faithful, I wasn’t able to see it blow, but I did see other Geysers spew water so I kind of knew what I would be seeing. The spouts were about 1.5 hours apart, but could change at any moment, and I had a tight timeline to make my flight.

We hit the general store, said our goodbyes and headed our separate ways. 

My drive down to the Grand Tetons was ABSOLUTELY BEAUTIFUL. It was like one of those winter wonderland drives you see in movies, but in the month of May. There was still a good amount of snow coating the trees and the mountains around me. I loved it. 

I didn’t make any stops down because I had only a slight idea of how long the drive down and back all the way up would take - being without service wasn’t in my favor here.

I stopped at the few pull-offs in front of the Tetons at Jackson Lake. Have you ever been so mesmerized by beauty that your heart has literally dropped? Well, that’s how this felt. If you have never felt that, head to Grand Tetons. I didn’t want to leave. I drove to the same spot back and forth three times to get out and take photos and touch the lake and ask some nice tourist to take a photo of me to prove that this was real life. 

After pushing my time only a little bit, I headed back North to stop at West Thumb for quick views of Yellowstone Lake and the West Thumb Geysers. I was literally running - good thing I was alone - probably would have embarrassed anyone who was with me. 

I made it to Bozeman Airport with a little time to spare and as I was cleaning out my rental, I realized I forgot to gas it up - hahaha I would! So, I left the lot and came back, full tank but still not ready to leave.

I think this is probably the longest post I have written so far - and my apologies for taking some time to write it! Creativity ebbs and flows just like everything else in life. After my trip to Yellowstone, I was so ready to dive in and tell you all about my trip. Then, life happens and you get back to a job, that maybe isn't inspiring, and you lose that spark. But, here I am, on a plane, traveling again, and inspired.