Originally, our plan was to stop by Bryce Canyon on our way to Northern Utah, where some of our nieces and nephews live. But, Bryce Canyon is about a two hour drive out of the way, and we just didn’t see a way to work it into our tight schedule.
We woke up on Saturday morning to the rising sun at 6:30am, and who was outside to greet us? Elkie and three elk friends snacking on the leaves of a tree across from our campsite. It was such a cool start to the morning.
Pulling out of Zion around 7am, we stopped by a cute local drive through coffee place and this time, it was not a mistake. River Rock Coffee…you DO rock.
After a four hour drive through the scenic mountains, we arrived in Heber City and were greeted by the adorable faces of six children. We had a blast taking them to the park and playing games. Games consisted of Twister, chess, and making silly faces with Uncle Tay-Tay.
We were awoken by the three “little guys”, who are 3, 4 and 6. They are too cute!
We had a delicious breakfast of pancakes and were sad to say goodbye, but with a recommendation from my dad (Gregg), we drove to Park City, a ski destination and home to the 2002 Winter Olympic Games. It was such a quaint town, and even though it was the “shoulder season” before summer, we were still able to enjoy the little shops and have a nice lunch.
Park City is about 45 minutes from Salt Lake City, which was our next destination. We parked on Capitol Hill and made our way to Temple Square, which is home to the Salt Lake Temple and headquarters of The Church of Latter-Day Saints. It was really interesting to learn more about the history of Mormonism, Salt Lake City and the building of the temple. Did you know it took almost 40 years to complete? The people who built the temple had to haul rocks from a quarry, which sometimes took up to four days on a wagon!
In the late afternoon, we headed to the small town of American Fork to visit our friends, The Kerrs, who Taylor met while doing The Sound of Music at Sierra Repertory Theatre a few years ago. Taylor was Rolf and their older daughter, Chloe, was Louisa, one of the Von Trapp children. They are the nicest and coolest family (seriously) and were so gracious to open their home to us for the night.
We also went over to their neighbor’s house and heard funny stories, listened to some amazing piano playing and played Skee Ball in the basement. Yes, the neighbors have an arcade in their basement! It was inspiring to see the community they are a part of and the support and friendship they have as a family.
Even though we didn’t plan it, we accidentally stayed up until midnight catching up and were supposed to be leaving for Yellowstone at 4am the next morning…
We blearily woke up at 4:45am and started our drive to Yellowstone. On our way, we drove through Idaho and stopped in Rexburg (of course!) for a Walmart fill-up.
We had sort of forgotten that Idaho is home to a large farming community, and were happily surprised to find a ton of great produce. We stocked up on potatoes, corn and asparagus for our next camping venture.
Around 10:30AM, we finally arrived at Yellowstone National Park!
We checked into Madison Campground, and once again, found ourselves with an amazing campsite and view of the snowy mountains.
We decided to drive to Old Faithful, which was about 16 miles south of our campsite. On our way, we saw so many bison! Yellowstone is very adamant that patrons stay at least 25 yards from elk, bison, and deer, and 100 yards from bears. So, we did not reach out and pet the bison, in fear of them turning on us!
On our way to Old Faithful, we stopped to look at the hot springs and mud pots along the way. Yellowstone is one of the most active geological sites in the world, as it rests on the “continental divide”. The hot springs are naturally a pure blue color because of bacteria and look so inviting. But, be warned! The springs are quite toxic can be over 200 degrees Fahrenheit…people have died thinking it was a nice, warm bath.
We made it to Old Faithful and the Visitor’s Center. The rangers predicted that it would erupt at 3:03pm, so we decided to watch two informative documentaries about the park while we waited.
In watching, we learned how geysers work. Magma from the Earth’s core heats up the groundwater, which causes it to rise through the natural “plumbing” in the Earth’s surface. The steam and water gets trapped in a very narrow passageway and eventually the steam gets so pressurized, it forces almost 40,000 to 80,000 gallons of water to the service during each eruption.
We also learned about all of the fun activities you can do in Yellowstone, ranging from bike riding to ranger-guided hikes. Unfortunately, even though it is May, Yellowstone is still very cold, which limits many activities and causes some road closures due to snow. Next time we visit, we will come back during the summer, even though that is when it is very crowded!
Around 2:50pm, we headed out to see Old Faithful! Many visitors also joined us with cameras at the ready. At 3:13pm, Old Faithful erupted! It was really cool to see a naturally occurring event you’ve learned about in science class.
After getting souvenirs from the “general store”, plus some delicious huckleberry lemonade, we headed back to camp. For dinner, we roasted our fresh produce and finally had chocolate and graham crackers to make s’mores!
We headed to bed, wrapping ourselves in many layers of clothes (I even slept in my winter coat), as the weather was predicted to go below 20 degrees. As we were falling asleep, it also started to rain…it was not a good night of sleep.
Exhausted from travel and little sleep, we had a later start to our morning (9:30am). About 45 minutes north of our camp was Mammoth Hot Springs and on the drive, we kept staring out the window to look for bears. We didn’t see any, but we did get a nice selfie with some bison!
Speaking of bison, did you know there used to be millions of bison roaming the West? But due to poaching, by 1901 there were only 25 bison left (in Yellowstone). Thankfully, after creating rules against poaching and doing careful breeding, they’ve been able to recover the bison population, and now there are over 4,500 in the park.
After seeing the Mammoth Hot Springs, we hiked about a mile into the Beaver Ponds Trail, to a great view.
This area of the park is also home to Fort Yellowstone, and we walked to the Visitor’s Center to learn more about the history of the park. Even though Native Americans have been living in the area of Yellowstone for thousands of years, it was only “discovered” in the mid-1800s by trappers and explorers.
In 1872, the land was created as a National Park (signed into law by Ulysses S. Grant), being the first National Park in the nation. As the superintendents of the park were trying to protect the it’s beauty and wildlife, the land became difficult to control with so many people trying to poach animals.
In 1886, 50 men from the U.S. Army were sent to create roads, maintain order, and arrest poachers. Forty years later, in 1916, the National Park Service was created to preserve and protect the parks, while making them accessible to all. National Parks just celebrated their 100th birthday this past year!
After learning all of this awesome information, we drove to the North Entrance of the park to take a picture in front of the Roosevelt Arch and famous Yellowstone sign.
On our way back, boy did we see some wildlife! First, we saw a giant herd of elk grazing in the grass. Then, about 20 miles later, a bison herd had literally stopped traffic. There were about 40 bison in the middle of the road!
It was such an amazing sight to see. They walked past our car; only about four feet away from our windows! Bison really love the road. This is where we saw most of them on our trip.
As it was supposed to snow that night, we changed our plans. Instead of camping again at Yellowstone, we got on the road early and drove through Western Montana, which is beautiful! Luckily, the sun does not set until after 8:30pm, so we were able to see the snow-capped mountains and log cabins. For dinner, we stopped in Butte, at this local place called Dairy Queen…
The people working were very friendly and even gave us extra free food! Finally, we arrived at our stopping point for the night around 11PM: Missoula.
Stay tuned for the next few days ahead…Seattle & Vancouver!