2016 Vacation: Yellowstone National Park, Part 2

Look it’s September 3 and we’re back. I probably shouldn’t be as surprised by that as I am, but it is nice when my schedule works out as planned.

We got out a little earlier on our second day in Yellowstone, but not as much earlier as I would have liked. We actually bought breakfast in the hotel for once, so that used up some time, and then we went to the supermarket in West Yellowstone, which was *not* like the supermarkets back home. The produce section was very small and most of the store was prepackaged food. We generally like to get our pop from a supermarket rather than convenience stores, because we can get six bottles for the price of two or three from a convenience store. I’m never going to be able to retire on those savings, but it helps. The supermarket we visited didn’t even have six-packs of pop, just the same individual bottles you get at the convenience store. So that used up some time.

Then we hit the traffic. It was a Saturday, so Yellowstone was more crowded than it had been on Friday, but the biggest problem was road construction. It’s winter for quite a long time every year at that elevation, so tourist season is also construction season.  And while we were there they were fixing the Grand Loop Road leading to Old Faithful. We wanted to get to Lake Yellowstone anyhow, so I suggested that we go around the long way, past the lake, and back to Old Faithful. We realized that would be at least a two-hour drive, so we opted to try our luck with Grand Loop Road. I have basically no sense of time, so I don’t actually remember how long we sat there; it certainly seemed to be longer than the half hour they expected it to be.

I had also just recently read that National Geographic article on Denali where we find out that there is a big parking lot by the visitors’ center and that everyone who goes into the park takes a bus. Visitors can get off the bus pretty much anywhere and then get back on the bus pretty much anywhere as well. I sat there in traffic wondering aloud just what it would take to implement a similar program at Yellowstone.*

Finally we made it to Old Faithful and, in contrast to the previous night, we had trouble finding a parking place. Our rental car was white, as were a lot of the other cars in the lot, which made it more fun to find the car in the lot on our way out.

We got there so late that we wrapped around to being really early, so we ended up with time to kill. We bought some souvenirs and a couple of soft pretzels in the Old Faithful Lodge while we waited. Then when we went back outside the only benches available were way off to one side, so we sat on the boardwalk itself, which ended up being a nice place to sit, because it gave me a nice angle on the grasses in front of the geyser as they waved the breeze.

Old Faithful, 2016
Old Faithful, 2016

A helicopter landed out behind the Old Faithful Inn while we waited for the eruption, and Alex loves vehicles of all types, so we went in search of the helicopter. It was a nice walk, and Myriad Creek, which runs behind the Inn, is very pretty, but we could have just followed the signs to the medical clinic, because that’s where we found the helicopter.

After that we went into the Visitor’s Center because I promised myself that I would go into the backcountry at least once, but I’m also not an idiot. I know that people can get hurt or killed if they exceed their hiking abilities. So I asked the park ranger there what he would recommend for a “baby” hiker. He recommended a fairly easy path that would take us two hours to complete. We ended up walking 45 minutes or so, out and back. We did head into the woods briefly just to do it, but I put hiking mode on my phone so that we wouldn’t get lost; we were able to just follow the path that we’d walked out back (take that, Hansel and Gretel!).

Back to Old Faithful, though. We considered having ice cream at the Old Faithful Inn before heading back out, but the lines were tremendously long and we figured that we could get ice cream at Lake Yellowstone (spoiler alert: we were never able to find it). So we headed out.

We stopped at Isa Lake, which sits right on the Continental Divide and is notable for being the only known natural lake that drains into both the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. Then we made it to Lake Yellowstone, which is not the easiest place to find parking, believe me.  The parking lot for the hotel was full, as was the parking lot in front of the hotel, and there was exactly one spot available in the parking lot for Lake Lodge. Since we didn’t find ice cream there, we chose to go somewhere we were certain would have ice cream — the Canyon Village Deli, where we’d had sandwiches the previous day. So we headed back up towards Canyon Village and got ice cream. I tried the huckleberry flavor, which was pretty good, but after all of that driving, I needed chocolate. So Alex and I both got cups of Moose Tracks and mint chocolate chip. And, as with the previous day, the people there were great.

We would have liked to have spent more time at Yellowstone, but I wanted to make an early night of it so that we could head out for Vernal Utah early the next morning. We didn’t make it out (of the park or of our hotel) as early as I would have liked.  You see, on our way out, we finally had our first wildlife-induced traffic jam. We’d had gapers’ blocks from wildlife alongside the road (a black bear, a grizzly bear, a bull elk, etc.), but on our way out, we actually ended up behind a bison. Alex attempted to take a picture, but the bison was near the center line on the road so he couldn’t get it for me. As luck would have it, the car in front of us came to a complete stop at one point, giving me a chance to stop completely and put my car in park long enough to snap a quick picture.

It was nearly dark by the time we made it back to the hotel, so we went right to bed and, the next morning, headed for Vernal Utah.  We’ll return for that drive on or around September 11.

*I did some research later and by my calculations, you would need a 2700-car parking garage just outside each entrance, which would be about half the size of the parking garage at the San Antonio International Airport. You could drop San Antonio into Yellowstone and still have space around the city, so if you can drive past the airport parking garage and not notice it (which you can), it should be possible to build those five garages without too much disruption. Alex objected, saying that most people would probably want their cars.  So I figure that you let the most motivated drivers bring their cars.  Let a couple of hundred cars in at each entrance (for an extra fee) every day. This would reduce the size of the garage that you would need to maybe 2500 cars. Of course, RVs that are headed towards the campgrounds would always be allowed in, so long as they go pretty much right to their camping spot.

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