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Another belated and long Trip Report from August 2012.

Leicester, United...
posts: 908
reviews: 61
Another belated and long Trip Report from August 2012.

Let me start by saying that the Wyoming TA boards are blessed with not one or two but an army of genuinely nice and helpful contributors who share an incredible array knowledge amongst them and more importantly have an endless supply of patience for a dumbo like me. I’ve been following this forum for nearly 2 years and feel like I almost know them personally.

Just to mention a few : Pam with her “Make this your Geyser day”, Deb with her photos (I wished I had a grandma to take me to Yellowstone twice every year) , Peachbelle gently directing the confused souls towards the Yellowstone Top Ten, Voyaging with his no nonsense approach and my favourite TetonBill always riding on his noble steed to the rescue of the distressed.

Some of them even took the trouble of PM-ing me to alleviate my worries about food and on other issues. I believe half the fun of a trip is in planning and it was a pleasure to set out the trip and enjoy the exchanges.

My wife and kids make fun of me whenever we are slightly unsure of our next step, by saying, “Can’t you ask your TA buddies?” But even they were gob smacked when I predicted the appearance of the rainbow over the Artist Point on 29th August 2012 at 0956 hours and 31 seconds !!! ( I gave the due credit to OhioHick !!)

I thought I was a meticulous planner but some of the travellers (Lisapunk for example) would put me to shame any day.

Whenever I thought of asking something, somebody beat me to that.

Towards the end I started coming out with weird queries like “Which side of the plane to sit when approaching Jackson Hole airport?” and was pleased to see no one had asked that before. Got a sensible reply promptly and tried to follow that.

Not that it made any huge difference to my viewing pleasure. There was so much haze from fires when we approached JAC, that I wouldn’t have seen Mount Owen even I if I was sitting on top of Mount Moran !!!

You guys must be dreading another TR. There has been a plethora of TR in 2012 compared to previous years (practically covering every single blade of grass, all the toilets, picnic spots, apps and silly tourists).

And who can ever dream of bettering the inspiration behind all these wannabe experts: The one and only OhioHick with his granddaddy of all TR (it took me 2 weeks to go through that) !!

But saying so the quality of TRs this year is astounding and some of the accompanying photos (e.g. GerogiaAstronut’s pics) were simply mind-blowing.

So I'm not even attempting to write a day by day report but would rather share my randomly collected nuggets of wisdom with you. Some of it is only relevant to travellers from UK but if even one person finds a single line useful I’d consider my effort worthwhile.

Now a little bit of the back ground.:

We are Her Majesty’s loyal subjects from across the pond where the game of kicking a ball with foot is known as Football and not Soccer. We are in our forties, kids 12 and 7. Not really very fit as our day jobs involve mostly sitting on a chair and pretending to look interested and act helpful.

Thankfully the Olympic Games were at the right time to motivate the whole family to do a bit of activity, especially after the achievement of Mo Farah in long distance running. My wife and kids have a medical condition causing low haemoglobin and they take extra care in high altitude. Wife and kids vegetarian by choice ( not vegans) and I also eat meat very rarely nowadays.

I had looked carefully about the month of travel. Because of school going kids I was restricted between mid July and early September. My primary goal was to enjoy the geothermal activities and the natural beauty. Seeing the wildlife was a bonus.

The peak season for airfare changed to shoulder season on 19th August (nearly £400 pound difference) and we travelled between August 19 and September 4th.

Every month has its pros and cons but if I return again I’d come in mid-September to avoid the crowd (not a big problem) and perhaps increasing the chance of seeing the big animals, who had migrated to higher grounds in the heat of late August. June would also be nice but the chance of snow is always there.

Leicester, United...
posts: 908
reviews: 61
1. Re: Another belated and long Trip Report from August 2012.

TR continued....

The popular loop from UK is to fly directly into Denver, hire a car, do the Black Hills, YNP, GTNP and fly out. I was not keen on that as I didn’t want to drive long distances in jet lagged stage and waste days in driving.

But we were very interested in seeing Mount Rushmore as it was unlikely we’d return to this area in near future and the Devils Tower was an added bonus for me.

I am always worried about clearing US immigration in busy airports and catching an internal flight on the same day. Once it took us 3 hours in Miami airport and we missed our connecting flight.

I wanted to fly to a major airport directly from UK and stay overnight there and fly to either JAC or Cody the following day. Salt Lake City was not too far but there was no direct flight from UK. Options were with United via Chicago and with Delta via Minneapolis.

We usually combine a few days in a city in USA with the national parks. My wife had found couple of her long lost school friends through Facebook, living in Chicago and DC. So we decided to fly into Chicago and fly out of DC.

The days of cheap air travel is well and truly gone and the UK govt is adding more and more tax to long haul flights.

I must say Kayak is one of the most useful apps I have ever used.

After spending endless hours on Kayak I eventually decided on UA flying into Chicago, spending a night with friends, Flying to JAC next day, hiring the car, touring GTNP, YNP, Cody, SD & Mt Rushmore , dropping off at RAP and flying to DC. 3.5 days at DC with a day trip to Niagara thrown in and back to UK.

That left me with 3 nights at GTNP, 2 Nights at OFI, 4 nights at Canyon, One night at Cody and 2 nights at SD. One really long drive between Cody and Custer via Devils tower.

With the benefit of hindsight should I have planned differently?

Yes. I should have spent a few more days at GTNP and YNP and perhaps dropped SD and Mt Rushmore totally.

As much as I admired the effort behind Mt Rushmore, somehow I failed to connect with that monument and was a bit overwhelmed with the proclamation of American greatness at every turn.

In fact I was more moved standing in front of the Iwo Jima Marine Corps monument at DC thinking of James Bradley and Flags of Our Fathers. The expressions on the faces are unbelievable. In case anyone not familiar I’d strongly recommend the excellent book and very well made but commercially unsuccessful movies by Clint Eastwood.

The wildlife loop of Custer was tame after seeing YNP but I did enjoy the Sylvan Lake.

Leicester, United...
posts: 908
reviews: 61
2. Re: Another belated and long Trip Report from August 2012.

TR continued...( more misery for the visitors to this forum!)

More preparation: I’m probably going to get lynched here but I did not feel I required Janet Chapple’s Treasures of Yellowstone. I had a good look at the pages available free at Google book preview and I couldn't justify buying one ( close fisted miser as I am!!)

I found the latest edition of Lonely Planet GTNP/YNP book in our local library and it was very well written.

I used the NPS website extensively and hats off to the NPS guys for providing such a wealth of information. The short videos, the interactive section, the Ranger-led programmes and the continuous updates were very helpful. I monitored the Yellowstone.net forum regularly and of course the TA forum.

If I was planning to do more hikes then Janet Chapple’s book would have been very helpful. I downloaded several apps but they were not very useful.

We all carried a fleece/cardigan and we certainly needed them in the mornings.

I used a Canon 60 D with 15-85 and 75-300 lens.

Couple of cheap digital cameras for the kids. One of them died after our eventful trip up the unmarked trail from Fairy falls to see Grand Prismatic. The motor just couldn't cope with the amount of dust we threw up and to top that my daughter slipped and landed on top of the camera !!

I really missed my tripod but had to leave it behind because of baggage allowance.

Do not suffer from Lens Envy. I found several times that the cameras were of older/cheaper version but the lenses were L series USM lens, which would cost three times the price of the camera. These were all RENTED!!

We had a binocular for each of us. Cheap ones for kids and a bit more decent ones for us (Nikon 10 * 25 with a pupil size of 2.5mm). I struggle to keep a steady image beyond 10 magnification and the ones with stabilizers are too expensive and heavy.

10*25 was fine for most of the places apart from Lamar and Hayden, especially in low light situations like dusk when 2.5 mm pupil size will not allow enough light..

The best option is to find a helpful spotter with a scope, politely request to have a look through the scope and locate the point of interest and then use your binocular and return to the same helpful spotter time to time without hogging the scope.

Each and every spotter I approached was more than happy to let me have a look. Some of them even took it as a challenge to make sure I had seen the animal.

For example I saw people getting excited about a bear near Roosevelt Junction and I just could not see it with my bino. But the bear was actually eating pine nuts near the top of the trees and I was looking for her on the forest floor all the time. Thanks to the nice couple with the scope.

You can rent scopes for $75 for 3 days from Silver Gate ( www.wolftracker.com) and I did try one of those. Certainly better than my binos. Later a very helpful wolf-watcher lady allowed me to use her Pentax scope. It was mind-blowing to experience the crystal clear quality and the large field of vision more than 100 yards away.

Car rental and Driving :

After extensive search using my Hertz/AA/ Alamo membership I found the best deal was form Alamo.co.uk ( not Alamo.com). A full-size Chevy Impala from 20th Aug to 1st Sept cost me £399 and £115 for one way drop off fee and some other charges. This was an Alamo Gold with inclusive CDW, a tank of gas, additional driver and return with any level of gas.

We were worried about fitting all the bags in a standard sedan as in North America I have never found a rental car option of an Estate (Station Wagon) car.

I was pleased to see that we were allocated a Kia Sorrento SUV with plenty of boot space. Although not needed but I kept it on “all wheel drive” mode all the time. It helped in the Blacktail plateau drive and certainly when parking off road in the Hayden and Lamar valley.

As mentioned there is often a drop of 6 inches plus from the tarred road and I did see some sedans struggling to get a purchase in loose dirt with wheel spinning and getting back to the road.

Everything went well till one day when we stopped at a Shell station and just couldn't get gas into the tank. Sheepishly I approached one of the employees asking to show me how to fill gas!! He just came and flicked a metal flap next to the nozzle and Hey Presto the pump started dispensing fuel !! I was relieved to hear from him that I was not the first person struggling with that.

I was extremely mindful of the animals on the road and because of driving on the “wrong” side of the road we were even more vigilant.

We drove all the bendy and steep roads like Signal Mountain, Dunraven pass, Beartooth Highay, US 14A through Bighorn Mountains, Burgess Junction and didn't face any major problem.

If anything I found the sheer drops off Dunraven Pass a bit unnerving, especially in the early morning on the way to Lamar.

Most of the drivers were considerate apart from a few who were trying to intimidate by tailgating.

You picked a wrong target Mate!!

My regular commute involves the M6 “Spaghetti Junction” ( one of the busiest motorways in Europe) and M25, world’s longest Car Park, also known as London Orbital Highway and I completely ignored the idiots. But that did not mean I was holding the traffic at any point.

The driving was a pleasure, especially the opportunity to engage the Cruise Control which is just a button in my car never used.

In my opinion the most dangerous situation is created by tourists too excited about seeing wild animals and pulling over or coming out of a bend without checking other drivers and more importantly excited pedestrians.

For example I was so excited after my wolf sighting that my brain switched off and I joined the road and automatically started driving on the left side of the road for good 10 -15 seconds before realising !! It happened once more after having a massive fight with my wife over spending too much time eating lunch but that’s entirely her fault!!

Leicester, United...
posts: 908
reviews: 61
3. Re: Another belated and long Trip Report from August 2012.

TR contd......

Flights:

I had booked my tickets with Continental to fly in UA metal in November 2011 and then the UA/CO merger happened. I kept an eye on my itinerary and after the merger it changed at least 6 times and not once did I receive any notification. I found that FloridaScGirl also had similar experience.

When I had booked in November 2011 there was no direct flight between O’Hare and JAC and I had to break in DEN. In May 2012 I realised UA had a direct flight between ORD and JAC. I took my chance and called up United exclaiming my frustration about so many changes without notification and requested to move me to the direct flight.

I was not really hopeful but the agent on the phone immediately agreed and I was glad to avoid the stopover at DEN. I have heard lots of bad stories at Flyers Talk fora about UA agents but my experience was very nice.

The flight from LHR to ORD was an old 747. I've flown with Continental before but this was the first time with United.

United’s motto is “Planes change, Values Don’t.” I felt it should have been “Planes haven’t changed, Values certainly have”.

The In-flight entertainment was a joke compared to South Asian airlines and the plane was clearly showing its age. And who can ever forget the joy of having “Asian Vegetarian” cuisine in economy class?

The crew obviously had more important things to do other than having the bare minimum interaction with the pitiable souls in the cattle class.

The flight on the way back was a more modern plane with better choices and I managed to spend the time seeing Hunger Games and Prometheus. But the most important task of an airline is to get you and the bags from a to b in time and safely. And in this respect UA did not disappoint us at all apart from an hour delay when leaving ORD to JAC.

Interestingly our hold luggage was free for the domestic legs even if we had stopovers for more than 12 hours. I suspect this was because the itinerary was with CO and originated in UK. Saved me at least $100 !!

So we left home to have a stay at Crowne Plaza Heathrow for the night before catching the flight at 10 am. I used to book with Purple Parking at LHR before, but nowadays the Heathrow hotels are offering such good value for 3 weeks stay, park and fly I can’t see the point of paying for parking only. The hotel is a very good option in my opinion and reviewed here :

tripadvisor.co.uk/Hotel_Review-g191261-d1936…

I was glad that I had not booked a flight to JAC the same day. We landed at ORD around 3-30 and it took me almost 2 hours to clear the immigration. The officers were all very nice, the interview itself took couple of minutes with routine questions and Agent Ho even said “Welcome to USA” before stamping my passport.

A five minute ride took us to Holiday Inn Express O’Hare. Nothing fancy but more than adequate for one night stop over. Reviewed here :

tripadvisor.co.uk/…CHECK_RATES_CONT

After freshening up my wife’s friend picked us up from the hotel and gave us a quick tour of Lake Michigan, Wriggley Fields, Grant Park, Buckingham fountain. Then we met her family at the Cloudgate, Millenium Park and after the obligatory photo shoot under the “Bean” had a nice dinner under the shadows of the Wriggley building and went back to the hotel around 9 pm.

2 milligrams of Melatonin and I was in the Land of Nod within 30 minutes and slept like a baby till I got up at sharp 5 AM and couldn't go back to sleep any more !!

The TSA security at ORD was pretty standard and my daughter was very happy when an agent gave her a “Junior TSA agent” sticker. That has recently helped her in the school to get one house point in the Show & Tell session by impressing her teacher!!

The flight was delayed by 1 hour but the captain kept us informed and we started our long-awaited journey to the Wilderness of Wyoming at last.

Now I was fully aware of the devastation caused by wildfires in Wyoming and Idaho and never in my life had I been so engrossed in webcams.

I became an expert in particulate matters and atmospheric Ozone layer, knew the locations of all the NPS webcams by heart, kept on checking the updates every hour and basically hoped for the best.

On a serious note I really understood the enormity of the tasks faced by the brave fire-fighters and my deepest sympathy to the communities affected by wildfire. By comparison my annoyance pales into insignificance.

I picked up the Annual America the Beautiful pass and drove off straight to Jackson Lake Lodge as the jet lag had started to kick in. I’ve written a review of JLL but in a nutshell not for a moment I regretted staying there. Yes it was overpriced, the cabins were a bit dated, the food was average but how often do I wake up to go into my balcony and enjoy the pink dawn over the Grand Tetons while enjoying a cup of coffee?

The review of Jackson Lake lodge:

tripadvisor.co.uk/ShowUserReviews-g143029-d2…

I think that’s enough of dry words and plan to get some photos from GTNP tomorrow.

Cheers.

Billings, Montana
posts: 3,098
reviews: 1
4. Re: Another belated and long Trip Report from August 2012.

Thanks for sharing the start of your trip report. I'm looking forward to more installments and of course, pictures. : )

Deb

Atlanta, Georgia
Destination Expert
for Road Trips
posts: 16,185
reviews: 256
5. Re: Another belated and long Trip Report from August 2012.

Thanks for sharing and look forward to the rest of your trip report and photos.

Leicester, United...
posts: 908
reviews: 61
6. Re: Another belated and long Trip Report from August 2012.

Thanks ladies. Now to GTNP.

Some childhood memories never leave you. Many many years ago when I was a little boy once we had a calendar in our home with a scenic photo for each month. One of the most striking ones was a range of snow covered peaks rising straight from the flats with wild-flowers growing in the foreground.

There was a small footnote to say it was from a mystical place called Grand Teton National Park. Since then it has been in my bucket list.

I was worried that it’ll not live up to my childhood memory. Despite missing the wildflower season and having the views obscured by the smoke fire the GTNP turned out to be one of my most memorable experiences.

It is a criminal offence for someone to travel thousands of miles to YNP and overlook GTNP.

We had only two and half days in GTNP so couldn't really do many hikes. The first evening was spent enjoying the Jackson Lake lodge area and just relaxing and recovering from jet lag. By evening most of the day trippers were gone and it was a really pleasant ambience in the main lobby.

Wife went shopping in the adjacent arcade and came back to drag me in. The quality of the clothing and other merchandise was very nice and I really liked a Pendleton rug but found the price a bit more expensive. There were some garments on sale as we were nearing the end of the season and we ended up buying some kids’ jackets/hoodies etc which were not that expensive. I also picked up a packet of seeds of my favourite Rockies flower: The Indian Paintbrush.

The food at the Pioneer grill was OK. Vegetarian options were limited but we were prepared for that. The server was very friendly and after realising we were of Indian origin actually introduced us to the Head Chef Mr. Nath who was from India as well.

For next three mornings I got out at 6-30 everyday to drive to Oxbow Bend to catch the fabled sunrise. Unfortunately every day my attempt was thwarted by the haze and I could just about see a little Golden-Pink ray on the peaks with very little reflection. But the peace and serenity of the Oxbow Bend in the morning was a nice way to start the day. I saw loads of Elks on the other side of the river and heard some haunting animal/bird noise but had no clue about the origin.

I had big plans for biking along the new paved trail from Dornan’s to Jenny Lake but sadly didn't have enough time.

We drove both the inner and outer loops several times and in my opinion the best view of the Tetons is from the inner loop going south from the Jackson Lake Junction and please drive the short unpaved road for couple of miles to reach Schawbacher’s landing, which also has one of the best views.

For photographing the mountains and the Mormon row barns early morning is the best time as afternoon sun would produce dark shadows and silhouettes. We saw only some bison from distance in the scenic loop and elks form time to time trying to cross the road (reminded me of TetoBill and his warning of animal crossing).

I had decided to do the Inspiration Point and Cascade canyon hike only. The detailed reviews are here:

Inspiration point :

tripadvisor.co.uk/ShowUserReviews-g143029-d1…

Cascade Canyon:

tripadvisor.co.uk/ShowUserReviews-g143029-d1…

I am so glad that we decided to carry on beyond the I-point and met up with the most majestic bull Moose about 20 yards from the trail. Kids asked me: “Doesn’t he get a headache carrying such big antlers?”

This big guy was completely oblivious of us mere humans and posed from different angles. I would have loved to continue a little beyond the fork but we were running out of water and decided to return. Please carry plenty of water as the heat and altitude are deadly combinations.

After a break at the small but rewarding Jenny lake Visitors Centre I had my first taste of Huckleberry in the form of slush. Refreshed we drove along to signal mountain. Did not encounter any of the dreaded mosquitoes there.

Next stop was Colter Bay. Spent some time exploring the area, had dinner at Colter Bay café and back to JLL to just chill in the evening. The marina was very nice and I thought the view from the cabins was as good as Jackson Lake Lodge.

The next day we were booked for a whitewater rafting trip with Barker Ewing at 1 PM. So after my ritual drive to Oxbow bend in the morning we drove the inner loop once again and then spent some time at Jackson Hole. It felt like a nice touristy town with usual gathering of bars, souvenir shops and adventure travel agencies. I felt the prices were certainly inflated and we confirmed this when we saw similar merchandise at Cody for cheaper price. The town square with its famous Antler arches was a nice place to relax. I missed the shoot out but saw something similar in Cody.

Barker Ewing was a very professional company and I was very pleased with our guide Brayden, who was wearing the shirt of my football team, the one and only Manchester United !!!

But as mentioned in my review I was really hoping for a slightly more adventurous ride. In late August the water level was low and Big Cahuna was more like Baby Cahuna and Lunch Counter was Snack counter !! But overall a very enjoyable experience.

Throughout the whole USA trip we kept on having eventful days.

After rowing for about 10 minutes Brayden spotted another raft beached with some anxious looking people hove ring over a passenger slumped awkwardly. I was glad to see that couple of other companies also pulled up trying to help.

After some deliberation I disclosed my connection with medicine to offer any assistance to the gentleman in distress. Turned out another lady in our raft was a neurologist. The unfortunate person had dislocated his shoulder. He had the recurrent dislocation of shoulder problem and had it done before. One guide tried to put it back but was not successful. The victim was in severe pain and was not prepared for others to try.

Both me and the Neurologist lady were so glad that our expertise was not called for. My vast experience of orthopaedics was limited to a 6 week rotation 20 years back as an intern!!

Thankfully there was one radio in a BE raft. The ambulance crew could not come down to that river bank with a stretcher and after some discussion they decided to row to another spot a mile down where there were some concrete steps. With help from other guides their raft eventually reached the place.

I was really impressed to see the solidarity amongst the rival companies. Only comment is that when I asked what sort of painkiller the victim had, Brayden proudly said “We always carry Ibuprofen”. This guy was certainly in need of something lot stronger than Ibuprofen and I wondered whether they should carry something stronger. But of course I’m not the best person to advise on that.

Our trip was delayed by nearly 45 minutes but that was of no significance at all compared to the distress of the man with his shoulder out.

My review of Barker Ewing is here :

tripadvisor.co.uk/ShowUserReviews-g60491-d14…

On the way back we ate at Dornan’s Pizza and Pasta. I loved the whole complex. There was a nice cool and hip vibe to the whole area. The wine shop was very good. There is a lovely long photo of the sunrise inside the restaurant which is certainly worth seeing.

This was one of our most enjoyable meals in USA. I normally don’t review restaurants but I loved this place and ended up writing a review of Dornan's:

tripadvisor.co.uk/ShowUserReviews-g60838-d23…

It was almost 7-45 when we finished and I was seriously worried about driving back in the dark. I could see the dark shapes of Elk huddled next to the road but thankfully they decided not to cross the road. Apart from a fox we did not encounter any animal in the road and I was glad to reach JLL safely.

Following morning wife went for more shopping, kids went for pony ride, I checked all my e-mails/weather/fire updates and of course the TA forums, knowing that would be my last access to internet. We said good bye to GTNP and left JLL at 12-30 heading towards YNP. I hope to return one day to see more.

Nowadays I try to ease the torture of bumper to bumper drive in the rain soaked bleak motorways by bringing back the memories of driving the inner loop under the shadows of Grand Teton.

Time for those promised photos from GTNP in the next post !!

Cheers

Moose, Wyoming
Destination Expert
for Wyoming, Jackson, Jackson Hole
posts: 4,347
reviews: 2
7. Re: Another belated and long Trip Report from August 2012.

Thanks for posting such an interesting review. You should be a writer for a travel magazine. Glad you enjoyed your stay, the hazy air notwithstanding.

Kentucky
posts: 97
reviews: 57
8. Re: Another belated and long Trip Report from August 2012.

Thank you for your review. I'm enjoying it. We are planning our June trip with our 14 and 8 year old daughters.

N. Idaho
Destination Expert
for Yellowstone National Park
posts: 9,758
reviews: 71
9. Re: Another belated and long Trip Report from August 2012.

Wonderful report! I really never tire of reading other people's views of their vacation. I laughed when you said you are using your stored up memories when you are stuck on the Motorway because I can feel myself driving down the roads in Yellowstone when I post itineraries for people.

Can't wait for the rest of your report and your pictures!

Pam

Atlanta, Georgia
Destination Expert
for Road Trips
posts: 16,185
reviews: 256
10. Re: Another belated and long Trip Report from August 2012.

Thanks again. Just keep posting and send those photos along. Always enjoy reading and dreaming of Yellowstone and the Grand Tetons.