I’ve been really slack recently, I know, but we didn’t get to our hotel last night until 10 p.m., and I was in no mood to post after avoiding seven deer on a back-country highway in Wyoming. Three I had to brake for to avoid, two walked across the road way ahead of me and got off in time and two were standing on the side of the road just watching me. Talk about nerve-wracking.
But before my deer run, we took the few hour trip from Missoula, Montana, to Yellowstone National Park, right in the northwest corner of Wyoming. I talked to a friend of mine who is working there for the summer and got the lowdown on the high points to hit in the park. We knew about Old Faithful, but we knew there had to be more to it.
The park is massive! A lot bigger than we thought it would be. A lot of it was just normal mountain driving, which we’ve seen plenty of on this part of the trip. Our first recommended stop was at Tower Falls. It’s a beautiful waterfall with a nice overlook in front of it, near the top. There were trees all around it so you could barely see where the fall hit the bottom. There is a path that goes down to the bottom part of the fall, but it was closed and you couldn’t see the waterfall from it now. I don’t know that I’ve ever seen a waterfall before.
We also stopped at the Calcite Springs overlook, which is where the springs have bleached the side of the mountain by the river because of the chemicals that are released through the spring. All along the road there were beautiful overlooks on valleys and rivers. The road climbed up to the tops of the mountains, giving a great view of the park. There was still snow on the ground all over the place. It is so thick that it still hasn’t melted, even though it was 70 degrees. Water was rushing from under the snow where it was melting at the bottom. It was really funny to see kids in shorts and T-shirts throwing snow balls.
The best part was going to see Artists Point. If you’ve ever seen a picture of the park — other than Old Faithful — it was probably from here. The point sits over this beautiful canyon that is painted all shades of white, yellow, red, orange and purple because of the deposits from the springs. At the far end of the canyon, right in front of the point, is a massive waterfall. It was gorgeous. Pictures should be up soon, we took plenty of them.
It took us from noon until five p.m. to get down to the south part of the park where Old Faithful is. On the way, we had to slow down because there were a bunch of park ranger cars on the side of the road. I thought it was just a wreck. As we were creeping by the cars, Madison looked up and saw a bison sitting right on the edge of the road, up on a hill, not 20 feet from the car. He looked like he owned the place and he was making a good point.
Old Faithful goes off about every 90 minutes. Earthquakes over the years has gradually lengthened the time between eruptions because it changes the internal plumbing of the geyser. When we got there, the next scheduled eruption was in 30 minutes, so we took some time to walk around the visitor center and gift shop. About 20 minutes before it was supposed to go off, we found a seat by an older couple on the front row.
After a few minutes, the man beside me looks over and asks if we saw the bison. That got us talking for a bit, and then he said, “We’ve been traveling around for a while. We started in North Carolina.”
I couldn’t believe it, this is the second couple that we have sat down next two that has been from North Carolina. I found out that they lived in New Jersey for a while before moving down to Stokesdale a few years ago. They were essentially taking a longer version of our trip, heading down south and coming back through the north. But they were hitting all the states in the middle. They had been on the road a week longer than us and didn’t plan on going back until the beginning of August. They were even driving a Cadillac, just one year newer than ours.
While we were talking, I started to notice the steam coming from Old Faithful getting thicker, then I saw some water starting to spray out. Suddenly, a powerful burst of water pushed out of the geyser and towered above us. I’m not sure how tall it was, but it was bigger than I expected. The most impressive thing was how long it lasted: about 4 minutes, continuously pushing out water.
As great as it was, I still took more away from Artist’s Point. You can’t beat a view like that.
At my insistence, we decided to detour a bit and go out the south entrance of the park so that we could drive through the Grand Teton National Park. My friend at Yellowstone said it was worth it and I’ve had other friends say the same thing. Since we were so close, I couldn’t pass it up. We pulled over into a roadside vista point, and I was simply amazed. These massive, rocky, snow-capped mountains towered over a crystal clear lake. It was breath taking. The reflection of the sky and mountains in the water just added to it. It reminded me of some pictures I’ve seen from the Alps, but I may have just made that up in my mind. Either way, I’m glad we went there.
Since I got us off track, I had to pay for it by driving two hours east while the sun went down in my rear view mirror. We stopped in Riverton, Wyoming at about 10 p.m.
This morning, we got up a little later and enjoyed a nice breakfast before setting off on the five or six hour drive to Mt. Rushmore in South Dakota. We got here around four and checked into a hotel a few miles from the park. Paw-Paw talked to people working the front desk and found out that they have a lighting ceremony for the monument at night. We had to see it.
But we wanted to see it during the day, too, so we went down there to check it out. The entrance is a massive marble walkway with pillars that have all of the state and territory flags on them. Just farther up is a statue of the Rushmore sculptor, Gutzon Borglum, done by his son. The path led to the main view point, right in front of the mountain.
I’ll be honest, as impressive as it was, it was lot smaller than I expected. I was waiting for it to blow me away with it’s size, but it didn’t. I found out in the museum area that each face is about 60 feet tall. That put it into perspective. They are massive. It’s an amazing feat in engineering and art. According to a video we saw, 90 percent of the carving was done using explosives. Only the really small detail work was done with chisels and drills. I can’t imagine being able to manipulate dynamite in a way to make such an intricate sculpture. Truly genius.
We left and got some dinner, then waited around in the hotel until the monument lighting, which started at nine p.m. When we got there, we were shocked to see the massive amphitheater slam-packed. We squeezed into a couple of seats right before the program started. A ranger came out and started talking about the American flag and its history. Then she started talking about the national anthem. She read all the verses (there are actually 4, we only sing the first) and sang the last one. It was an amazingly strong voice for such a little girl. The third verse is my favorite, since it basically makes fun of the British for not being able to take the fort in Baltimore during the War of 1812.
After she spoke, there was a quick movie about the mountain and the presidents — Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln and Teddy Roosevelt — that were carved into the stone. At the end, “America, the Beautiful,” played while light slowly started to shine on the monument. By the end, the monument was covered in a golden glow, giving it a completely different look from when we saw it during the day. It seemed larger, grander.
Everyone stood while they played the National Anthem. Then they asked veterans and current military personnel to come down to the stage. We got Paw-Paw to go down there (Madison ran down to take pictures). After a long round of applause, the ranger asked some of the veterans to take down the flag that was on the stage. They folded it — after some instruction from fellow veterans and the ranger…I guess it’s been a while — and handed it to the ranger. She thanked them all, as well as their families and asked for another round of applause. She then asked that all the veterans touch the flag as they left the stage. It was a touching moment, and I know Paw-Paw appreciated it.
We fought traffic, got out of the park and retired to our hotel.
Tomorrow we will be mostly driving, just to get closer to Milwaukee. I will be meeting a friend there and I convinced Paw-Paw to stay there for a bit so that we can go to Summerfest, a yearly music festival in Milwaukee. We should be there on the first of the month. We’ll probably stay one night and then make the short trip to Chicago.
I’ll try to make a quick update tomorrow and throw some long overdue pictures up!