Sunday, November 2, 2008

Yellowstone National Park

We finally did it! We finally visited Yellowstone. We are a mere 3-hour drive to the northern (and open year round) entrance to Yellowstone. We probably could have made it a day trip, but we weren't sure how long we would spend in the park. Rocky's coworkers told him about a very affordable Super 8 in Gardiner, which is the northern entrance to Yellowstone. So, Saturday morning, we dropped Otis off at the kennel and started off!

It was a nice sunny day in Billings when we left, but was overcast in Yellowstone (perfect for picture taking). It was a brisk 57 degrees when we stopped at Mammoth for lunch. This was really the last weekend to get through Yellowstone by car for the winter. On Monday, they will close most of the roads. Some will reopen to snow cats and snowmobiles after the snow comes, but you won't be able to drive into the park much. We still bought a yearly pass. Maggie was happy to be out of the car for lunch. She loves picnics with "pink milk!" We took some time to walk through the visitor's center and saw some of the native animals (stuffed) of Yellowstone. Maggie really wanted to see more animals, and that was the only way we could get her to go back in the car. It had been a long ride already!!

We decided to drive to Old Faithful and just play it by ear for the day. We hadn't gotten very far, when we came upon some buffalo. Just a small group of them and, while Rocky and I thought it was cool, Maggie was unimpressed. The weather was getting cooler and the clouds thicker. We continued our journey and Maggie soon fell asleep. It started to sprinkle on us, and we came upon a buffalo taking a leisurely stroll down the middle of the road. He paid us, or any of the cars who passed him, no mind. I've always known, theoretically, how big buffalo are, but seeing one, practically face to face and in comparison to a Jeep Cherokee, was a real eye opener as to just HOW big they are. And also made me wonder a just how bright someone would have to be to approach this animal on foot to get a photo. It was a tad unnerving being in the VUE.

Maggie slept through the buffalo and a few coyotes. She slept through a stop to see a waterfall. She probably would have taken a really good long nap, but we arrived at Old Faithful and Rocky and I were ready to get out of the car. You can't really get a 3 year old out of a car seat without waking them up, so we prayed for a good mood. She complied. She enjoyed walking around in the rain, carrying a Billings Clinic um-BRELL-a. It rained quite hard on us most of the time we were at Old Faithful. I wondered to myself (and Rocky wondered aloud) what possessed me to only pack 1 change of pants for Maggie! Seriously, not sure what my thought process was for that. We had just missed seeing Old Faithful and had about a 90 minute wait. We wandered around, let Maggie jump in some puddles, looked at what appeared to be other geysers. From the literature, there are several other geysers in the area, but not as predictable. We ran into several people looking for the Grand Geyser, which is much bigger than Old Faithful, but it looked a bit far for Maggie to walk on the map (maybe next time, on a nicer day). Maggie seemed to have a good time. We looked around the gift shop and Maggie got a moose puzzle. Then, it was finally time!
Now, if you have never seen a geyser, it's difficult to know what exactly to expect. You know the concept, but the actual experience may be underwhelming, depending on the expectations. I've been to Old Faithful before. To me, it is interesting to see nature at work. To see the earth send the water shooting into the air, the steam coming across; to be able to see this end product of all the movement going on beneath our feet. And it all happens on a time table that we can predict within 10 minutes of the next eruption. Rocky was expecting more -- a rumbling, a little shake, something a little more than just the water shooting into the air. A gray, cloudy sky did not help. Maggie was, of course, unimpressed and asked to see more animals.
We saw just one more animal on our trip in Yellowstone -- a lone coyote sitting on the side of the road. He seemed to be asking us for a sandwich, but we were good and didn't comply. We had seen another coyote pick up some road kill, but as the crowds are gone, I believe the plethora of road kill is also gone.

Our last stop in Yellowstone was at the grand canyon of Yellowstone and the lower falls (picture at the top). It was fabulous! I don't remember seeing it the last time I was in Yellowstone -- of course that was also over 20 years ago! It was starting to get dark, so we didn't spend a lot of time there. Maggie enjoyed stretching her legs, walking up and down the stairs and really really wanted to stay (or didn't want to get back in the car). We told her next time and started on the road back to Gardiner.

It was a great trip and the hotel in Gardiner wasn't bad (especially for $50/night). There's a nice little pizza place in town, which in better weather would have been a nice little walk. It was a nice little getaway, and we also learned that you can do a short weekend in Yellowstone fairly inexpensively! We've started talking about another trip in the spring after the roads open up, and before the crowds show up. Yellowstone Park is truly a strong testament to the beauty of God's handiwork.

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