By: Susy Q
I remember my first visit to Yellowstone National Park. Its ethereal aura doesn’t just provide an amazing backdrop for memories. It stays with you forever.
My parents loved to travel. Summer vacation was very important to Dad. It was a chance to get out of the big city, be free in the mountains and lakes, or the beaches of the Atlantic Ocean. My parents loved the New England States. Mostly we stayed in rented cottages, explored the East Coast, travelled to the Maritimes, and swam in the cold Atlantic. Almost every summer Dad would find a way to include a camping trip to northern Quebec, where we would cross the lake in our boat and pitch a camp in the wilderness. We would pick blueberries the size of my Dad’s thumbnail and he would fish everyday in the lake for trout. We even dug our own latrine.
The summer of 1969 was a little bit different. My parents, over the years, had always bought the latest camping gear. When they purchased our first trailer, it was an empty shell of a thing. Back in those days, you could buy them like that and finish off the interior yourself. Not quite being the carpenter of his imagination, he asked a few friends to help and they created a somewhat warmer and dryer environment, and we got the RV bug.
Our next trailer was 29 feet long (8.83 meters) and it spoiled us forever. It didn’t have that distinctive trailer smell, you know, of vinyl and plastic. It had real wood panelling, large kitchen cupboards and a big fridge. It had a pot belly stove for heat. It was a fabulous cottage on wheels. And it started our biggest adventure.
My Mom had redecorated the interior with new curtains and seat cushions over the winter, loaded it up with every convenience of home, and Dad had built a bunk bed for my six-month-old baby sister. We were packed and ready to go as school finished that June. The five of us, Mom, Dad, and three girls, left Montreal along the Trans-Canada Highway, west across Canada, stopping in campsites along the way. I watched in wide-eyed wonderment as lakes and forests, the vast Prairies, the foothills, valleys and mountains, rolled by from my spot in the back seat.
We arrived in Calgary for Stampede and whooped it up with the cowboy atmosphere. We chugged through the Rockies and spent over a week on the west coast near Vancouver, swimming in the Pacific Ocean. We hauled that “cottage” back through southern British Columbia and entered the United States into Idaho. My parents had decided to travel back to Montreal through the USA, making it a real circle loop of the continent. Dad, being the outdoorsy type, thought a drive through Yellowstone National Park would be fun. It was more than that. It stopped us in our tracks.
The scenery was way beyond our imagination. This was Nature’s Disneyland. A one day side trip stretched to five. I remember Fishing Bridge where people were lined up shoulder to shoulder, tossing their fishing lines into the river. My Dad, being the ultimate hobby fisherman and photographer, was amused. He took a picture and declared, “I don’t think that we’ll be fishing here, girls! Too crowded!” In fact, since 1973, fishing off the Bridge is no longer allowed.
We parked the trailer in a campsite, and explored the Park. Every morning, Dad would get up early and we girls would go with him to catch trout for breakfast. That first morning, as he waded out into the Yellowstone River, he noticed that he wasn’t catching anything, but another guy was. So, naturally, Dad asked him what kind of lure he was using, and we then took off to find the nearest tackle shop, bought the shiny new thing, and bingo! We had our catch limit of the day, everyday, within an hour! There is nothing like fresh caught trout for breakfast and eating outdoors in an alpine altitude.
I remember, as an astonished kid, watching Old Faithful spew high into the sky, swimming in Yellowstone Lake, and peering into bubbling mudholes. We spent a day driving throughout the majestic Grand Tetons to Jenny Lake and Jackson Hole. All in all, it was five days of magic. The highlight of our cross country adventure, and everything after that paled in comparison. We didn’t want to leave. It was with a few tears that we dragged ourselves away from this wonderland, vowing to return as soon as possible.
We never made it back there as a family. That is, until this past October. My youngest sister and I, both of us now living in Calgary, were mesmerized watching the Ken Burns’ special, “The National Parks “, which recently aired on PBS. Inspired, we looked at each other and said, “Let’s go – tomorrow!” So we did.
We quickly planned 3 glorious days exploring the wonders of this ethereal place. We zigzagged in awe throughout the Park, crisscrossing the Continental Divide at 8000ft (2438m) altitude, stopping every few minutes to take photos, trying to absorb it all. We gazed at massive bison, weighing at least 2000 lbs (907 kilos) right beside the car, herds of elk munched in the valleys and then meandered across the road, and a coyote ran alongside looking for his next meal. Old Faithful, once again, disgorged a fine spew all over us, and geysers created a mist that iced the pine trees. The snow only added to its mystical setting.
Sitting on top of a supervolcano, Yellowstone is the world’s largest caldera. The earth below heaves and produces boiling mud pools and crystal clear emerald geyser pools. Steam clouds plumed everywhere, mountains were dusted in snow, tall pine trees were laden with the white stuff of picture perfect postcards. Icicles dripped from petrified trees. The reddish gold and pink of the hoodoos in Yellowstone’s Grand Canyon shimmered in the sunlight and the swift rushing water of the Yellowstone River tumbled from heights of over 300 feet (91 meters) creating colorful rainbows.
We put 1864 miles (3000 kilometres) on my car, took over 700 photographs, and stayed in a fabulous log cabin. Yellowstone National Park creeps quietly into your soul. It holds you in its magical grip. Wonderful memories came flooding back to hold hands with the new ones. Departure day passed. We stayed for more. I think that Dad would have approved.
If You Go and I Hope You Do
With around 10,000 thermal features, 290 waterfalls, 300 geysers, a petrified forest, and a Grand Canyon, to list just a few things, the spectacular Yellowstone National Park is for everyone. Located in the northwest corner of the State of Wyoming, with bits of Idaho to the west and Montana to the north, there are only four entrances into the Park – from the north, south, east and west. Yellowstone was established in 1872 and is America’s and the World’s First National Park, is a designated World Heritage Site, as well as a designated Biosphere Reserve.
The four entrances to the Park, are open throughout the summer season, or, from roughly mid-April through mid-October, depending on snowfall. Most of the Park officially closes in November with small sections that re-open for the winter season sometime in December. The North Entrance road, however, from Gardiner, Montana, through to Mammoth Hot Springs and on to Cooke City is open all year. The only other option open in winter is the West Entrance, home to West Yellowstone – “the Snowmobile Capitol of the World”. And, get this – not only is this the only way to see Old Faithful in winter – this entrance is only open to snowmobiles and snow coaches!
By Air: United Airlines connects from Calgary, Alberta through Denver, Colorado or San Francisco, California, to Bozeman, Montana without any extra stops.
Shuttle service is available from the Bozeman Gallatin Airport to West Yellowstone and Mammoth Hot Springs. Car rental agencies are available both at the airport in Bozeman and in West Yellowstone.
For more information check the Bozeman website at: www.bozemannet.com and airline information at: www.unitedairlines.com
By Car: We chose to drive the distance from Calgary, as the Highway US I-15 from the Coutts border crossing is non-stop to Helena, Montana, where we veered off and took the US#287 south to the US I-90 east to Belgrade, and then south on US#191 through the Gallatin Valley – a distance of 587 miles or 945km.
Where to Stay: We chose to base our adventure in West Yellowstone at the fabulous Moose Creek Cabins in our own 2- room log cabin. The queen-size beds are more comfortable than expected and the decor is log cabin chic. While the wind howled outside and the snow fell, we were toasty warm and comfy. They are open year round – check them out at www.moosecreekcabin.com Ask Brenna or Dan for additional information regarding exciting snowmobile packages should you decide to have a winter wonderland adventure.
Summer, of course, is peak tourist season and there is a plethora of accommodations available outside, as well as in the Park itself, depending on your budget, from campsites to cabins, lodges and lakeside inn, and, of course, the famous and original Old Faithful Lodge.
Where to Eat: In West Yellowstone, the Wolf Pack Micro Brewery – great pub food and a wonderful variety of micro brewery beer. Highly recommended – Bullwinkle’s Saloon, great atmosphere – check out their menu at www.yellowstonebullwinkles.com
In the Park, there are cafeteria-style restaurants and dining rooms within all the lodgings, as well as fast food pick-ups at all gas stations.
Even in the summer, weather in the Park can flip on a dime. The Park, sitting on the Continental Divide, is at a high altitude and does not dip below 6500ft or 1981m. The mountain passes are over 8000ft or 2438m high. Average summer temperatures can hover around 75F or 25C, and at the higher elevations, can dip to freezing at night and snowfall is not unheard of. Several options for all weather gear is highly reccommended.
In fall and winter, don’t let cold temperatures and snow deprive you of an amazing adventure. The air might be crisp and the wind might be chilling, but the scenery is exhilarating.
For up to date weather, road conditions and closures, and all things Yellowstone, please check their very informative website. Above all, just go. Anytime of year. You will not be disappointed.
Websites to visit: www.nps.gov/yelll/index.htm www.destinationyellowstone.com
About the author:
Susy Q has spent most of her life in the travel industry and currently hangs her hat in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. Whether it be roaming around her own “backyard” or to far reaches of the globe, a weekend getaway or spending 6 months sailing the South Pacific, Susy loves everything about travel and the spirit of just going. In addition to most areas in Canada and the United States that she has visited, her list of countries that she has lived, worked, and vacationed to, is very long. She considers England to be her second home, however, after spending 10 years of her adult life living in the tropics, returning to island beaches is always a possibility.