Bill and I traveled all summer. I’m not gonna lie. It was tons of fun, but after getting back from our road trip to Yellowstone National Park last month, I am tired and will be staying home for a while.
I wanted to share our Yellowstone road trip experiences so this will be a travel post instead of a gardening one. I hope it’s more interesting and helpful than Uncle __________ sharing his vacation slides one-by-one.
If not, just run away. I won’t even know.
The Wonderful World of Disney
Like so many other children of the 60s and 70s, every Sunday night I would watch The Wonderful World of Disney. I can’t tell you how many times they profiled Old Faithful and Yellowstone National Park on that program. It’s difficult to explain how magical Old Faithful was on television and how grand it was to see Yellowstone in person, but I’ll try.
These videos are so cheesy now, but they were so cool when I was young. We only had three television channels and after dinner, Walt Disney himself took us with him as he and famous videographers traveled throughout the U.S. and the rest of the world.
A dream come true
It was a dream come true to visit Yellowstone National Park, and it only took me 57 years to get there. It took Bill 65. We kept trying to go with the kids, but could never make it happen.
Now, I’m glad we went by ourselves. I think the park would have bored our children when they were young. There was natural beauty at every turn, but very little internet and almost no cell phone coverage in the park.
Very little cell phone service and internet
No complaints. Just something to keep in mind if you visit. My mother was again in the hospital, so we had to find a spot with some cell phone coverage at least once a day so we could check on her. We found a little wireless coverage around the hotels especially Mammoth Springs and Old Faithful Inn.
The route to Yellowstone
Bill and I took the same route he takes when he rides to the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally. He’s been several times, but I’m not willing to ride for that long. My longest ride has been four hours, and that was plenty.
[Click on photos in galleries to make them larger.]
On our first day, we spent about nine hours in the car driving to Ogallala, NE. We stayed at the AmericInn by Wyndham which was practically brand new and very clean. We ate dinner at Urban Farmer, a wonderful steakhouse Bill knew about from his rides.
Mount Rushmore National Memorial
The next morning, we set out early and drove up the North Platte River Valley to Alliance and Chadron and then into South Dakota. We went into the Black Hills and down the Iron Mountain Road to Mount Rushmore National Memorial. This 17-mile journey is the backroad into Mt. Rushmore, and it’s celebrated for its fantastic views of the monument along with Pigtail bridges and tunnels. If you can find it, it’s definitely worth the drive.
Deadwood and Sturgis
After Mt.Rushmore, we went through Rapid City, SD and then on to Sturgis which is dead except during the famous motorcycle rally. We then spent the night in Deadwood at the Bullock Hotel originally built by Seth Bullock. Being history buffs, we’re big fans of Seth Bullock and his wife, Martha, both important citizens of Deadwood. Their relationship was nothing like the TV series. We found the Bullock Hotel to be fine except for the bed which was awful. The town is focused a great deal on casino-style gambling.
The next morning, we arose early and drove to Lead and came down Spearfish Canyon Scenic Byway which is another famous drive/ride. We went on to Belle Fourche, another town celebrated in history because of Seth Bullock. He is also connected to Yellowstone National Park and was a good friend of Teddy Roosevelt.
We saw Devil’s Tower National Monument, partly famous because of Close Encounters of the Third Kind. We had lunch in Buffalo, WY, not knowing that it was the setting for Longmire and still hosts Longmire Days each year. I do wish Longmire would come back as a series, but I hear there’s a movie in the works. I hope so.
Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument
We then drove north through Montana to the Little Bighorn Battlefield which was quite moving. By a fluke, we spent the night at the Yellowstone Valley Lodge on the banks of the Yellowstone River outside of Livingston, MN. We didn’t book ahead, and I found a room for that night. They are also known for their fabulous restaurant, and it was truly wonderful. We had wine on the patio next to the river, and it was quite chilly. We loved it.
Finally, the next morning after a two-hour drive, we arrived in Yellowstone National Park. Like many park visitors, we entered the North Entrance at Gardiner, MN which is adjacent to Mammoth Springs. It was another two hours to Old Faithful Geyser, and fortunately, we were rewarded when it blew ten minutes later. Sometimes, you have to wait an hour and a half for it to erupt. The coolest thing about our experience was that everyone was completely silent when it blew. For the entire sequence, they were full of awe.
I can’t say enough about traveling to Yellowstone in September. We left Oklahoma on September 17 and got back on the 23rd. The crowds were smaller, and we saw the first snow of the season. Yes, at times, it was chilly, but just dress in layers. The days were actually warm. However, the following weekend, the area received over twelve inches of snow so we got out just in time.
The snowfall was magical. It started one afternoon, and while we were eating at the Grant Village dining room the snow fell softly outside the large windows. After dinner, Bill and I went back to our room and read for several hours and then went to bed. Most nights were like that, but the snow was truly wonderful.
Where to stay in Yellowstone
We stayed at both Grant Village and Canyon Lodge and Cabins in one of the lodges. Here’s a tip. If you want any internet service, stay in the main lodge at Canyon. It’s the only one with internet service, and there is a business office upstairs. At Grant Village, you can only have one device on the internet. You also can’t change to another device so choose wisely.
The park is so immense that it’s a great idea to book yourself into more than one lodge. Grant Village is at 7,800 feet at one end of the park, and Canyon Village is more centrally located. For super fancy accommodations, you might stay at Mammoth Lodge. In park lodging, there is no television and no streaming internet, so be sure to bring a book or three.
The classic place to stay, of course, is Old Faithful Inn. It is beautiful and open to all visitors. We had lunch in the bar because the restaurant was full. The food was fine and hearty throughout the park.
It takes about four hours to travel from one end of the park to the other so plan beforehand what you want to do and where you want to go. Also, talk to the rangers about where they’ve seen wildlife. They almost always know where you can find elk–near Mammoth Lodge–and bison (buffalo)–in the Lamar valley. Bears are sometimes spotted, but you often need a long-range lens to see them which, trust me, is a good thing. You’ll see ravens, Bighorn sheep, and many other animals during your stay. Remember that animals are wild and dangerous, even elk. I saw one guy taking a selfie with a female bison that had a calf. That is just stupid. We were told by one of our servers that only a week before, a young woman was gored by a bison. She lived. Bison may look warm and cuddly, but they are not. Trust me. We still have bison throughout Oklahoma.
To see much of the beautiful scenery, you’ll need several days. We had four days and three nights in the park. We also took a side trip to Jackson, WY, which was simply wonderful in the rain. I highly encourage taking the time to go there too. You could also fly into Jackson, stay there a day or two and then go on to the park. You’ll drive through the Grand Tetons if you go that way.
We then drove the entire way back to Oklahoma in a day and a half after stopping for a while in Cody, WY. Bill is a western history nut and didn’t want to miss the Buffalo Bill Museum.
Don’t miss Yellowstone Grand Canyon or the upper and lower falls. Also, try to see the Grand Prismatic geyser. It is often covered in steam though so don’t be surprised.
Yellowstone is still a wild place
One more note before I go. Yellowstone, in spite of all of its yearly visitors, is still wild. The park has not been commercialized which was such a relief–no tacky billboards, for example–but visitors also need to be smart. Animals are wild and geysers are hot. Keep that in mind when you visit especially if you decide to hike or camp in bear country. If you’re not convinced, read Death in Yellowstone: Accidents and Foolhardiness in the First National Park, 2nd Edition, by Lee H. Whittlesey.
Magic has its dangers. That’s part of its price.