Our Paleo Family

Trip Report: Going West, Week 2

This is the lock screen on my phone now. Every time I look at it, I can’t believe it’s a real place. And that I was there. Such a blessing!

Welcome! If you’re new here, I’m taking a break from the regular posting of recipes to recount for you the trip my family took this past July. We drove from North Carolina to Grand Tetons, Yellowstone and Glacier National Parks – plus lots and lots of awesome places in between. You can check out this first post where I offer lots of tips for making this kind of trip in a car with tweenagers. Then in this post, I listed our entire itinerary and detailed the first week. Now, we’re up to week two and below you will find all the details of the second week of our travels. Let’s dive in!

Day 8 – We are still in the Black Hills/Badlands area of South Dakota. This morning we headed to Spearfish, SD to hike Spearfish falls. We came upon this place pretty randomly. We were visiting Wall Drug for some ice cream and just wandering around when we found an area that was wall to wall photographs from when this part of the country was first being settled by our government. I love looking at old photographs like that because they tell such great stories. Anyway, I found one of Spearfish falls and it looked beautiful so we looked it up, found out it’s a place that is still visited today and we added it to our calendar.

An additional tip I don’t believe I mentioned before: if you take a trip like this with children, they all need their own backpack with water bladder. This way, they can carry their own water, snacks, jackets, etc. and the water bladder thing seems to be fun for them so they will stay hydrated!

It was was a beautiful area and I kept envisioning the movie, A River Runs Through it. Thanks to Amazon music, I was able to play some of the music from that movie while we drove through the valley – it completed the experience! Later that day, we visited Mount Rushmore and the Crazy Horse Memorial.

I had pretty low expectations for Mount Rushmore, but I was pleasantly surprised. It was definitely awe-inspiring. We found ourselves just standing there staring for quite a long time.

The Crazy Horse Memorial is still in progress – and probably will be for many more years. When it’s finished, it should look like the sculpture below.

We had intended to stay at Crazy Horse to see the laser light show after dark, but we had seen all there was to see by around 5 PM and didn’t feel like it would be worth having another really late night (we had stayed up late the night before for an astronomy festival at Badlands National Park). So we headed back “home” and slept like babies.

Here are a few pics of our hotel, The Town Hall Inn, in Lead, SD.

I think the ceilings were 20 feet tall! Our room was the old Engineer’s Office.

Day 9 – We made our way from South Dakota to Grand Tetons today. As great as the trip had been up to this point, this is what I was waiting for. I had dreamed of seeing that iconic view of the Tetons. I believe I was driving when we caught our first glimpse of the Rockies. I remember goose bumps and I believe tears came to my eyes. I couldn’t believe it. I truly don’t think this would have been nearly as impactful on an airplane. In fact, the entire drive from the Black Hills to Jackson, WY was beautiful. The landscape was not at all what I had imagined. There were rolling, green hills and steep red and brown canyons. The variety was awe-inspiring.

I see the Rockies!!!!

To the right of the road is a river and to the right of that – on the ledge – is a train track. It went all through this canyon. I imagined those men so long ago laying that track in this wild country.

We decided to take a little detour on the way to the Tetons and visit Devil’s Tower. This is a monolith in the northeastern corner of Wyoming. Close Encounters of the Third Kind features Devils Tower and my husband really wanted to see this thing live and in person. Honestly, I wasn’t too enthusiastic about this excursion, but in the end, I’m really glad we went. It was interesting and unique and actually really pretty. There is a hike around the base that is about two miles. We tried to take a ranger tour, but it was going really slowly and we had a long way to drive, so we just hiked on by ourselves.

An unsolicited hug! One of my favorite things.

After many hours of driving and beautiful scenery, we arrived at our rental in Jackson Hole. We stopped at a local store to buy groceries, then headed straight for the condo so we could get some much needed laundry going and cook dinner. We have loved our camping adventures thus far, but a real bed and laundry facilities were welcome. Early to bed! This was our first night in a house in 10 days and it felt wonderful! In case you are headed that way yourself some day, this is where we stayed and I highly recommend it.

The kids had this awesome loft area with bunk beds and their own half bath. They were in heaven!

And I had a window seat! I cranked open those windows to allow in that cool, crisp air. You could find me here first thing every morning and before bed at night.

Day 10 – This was our first day exploring Grand Tetons National Park. We got started early, stopped by the Visitor’s Center at Jenny Lake to get advice from the rangers there, then took off to hike around Jenny Lake and Cascade Canyon. We seemed to take a wrong turn somewhere near the beginning because we were all alone on the trail. We could see and hear people nearby, but they were definitely on a different trail. There was a good bit of construction going on at the park and I think the signage tripped us up a bit. After about a mile, we joined up with the main path and were no longer alone. Hiking alone is a big deal in that part of the country because of bear activity. And moose and elk and did I say bears? So I was never particularly comfortable when it was just the four of us.

Our original plan was to hike all the way around Jenny Lake (about 2.5 miles), but I thought it would be flat and easy. It was NOT flat! We hiked half way then set off to explore Cascade Canyon, which the ranger at Devil’s Tower had told us was his favorite. The views on these hikes was unbelievable. I need more adjectives. Breath-taking, beautiful, amazing, awe-inspiring…you are going to hear these words over and over again. I just couldn’t get over it, frankly. This was beauty unlike anything I had ever seen.

This is one section of the hike around Jenny Lake. We are literally on a bare slope. It was a little precarious. The kids very much enjoyed my fear.

How do we stay Paleo on a month long trip? With lots of Fanta Orange, that’s how. Shocking, I know. My husband kept buying this garbage for them!

Soaking my feet in the cool, clear waters at the base of the Tetons was a huge treat at the end of the day.

After hiking about 8 miles, I decided my feet could not take hiking the rest of the way around Jenny Lake, so we took the shuttle boat across. It was expensive for a 5 minute ride ($30), but it was worth it to save my feet for tomorrow! Our excitement on this hike was seeing a moose from a very great distance. The nice thing about wildlife spotting in these popular parks is that someone else will spot the animal and then tell you about it so you don’t have to worry about missing it. Or just look for where a crowd is gathered (or a traffic jam) and you are sure to see some wildlife.

See that moose waaaaaaay down there?

We headed back to the condo relatively early so that we could shower and get cleaned up for dinner. I had found a mostly Paleo restaurant in Jackson and made reservations before we left home. We enjoyed walking around downtown Jackson and visiting lots of the shops. The kids were in search of the perfect souvenir t-shirt. Our dinner was pretty good, but not great. We each tried something different and shared. My husband’s elk lasagna was the clear winner.

We got the quintessential picture under the antlers in the town square of Jackson. If you ever go, check out the live cam on YouTube. Tell your family and friends to load that video, then you head to the correct corner of town and call them. It’s a fun treat for everyone.

Day 11 – Day two in Grand Tetons

We stopped for this perfect picture…

Then this happened…

Our starter went out. Hey, our 12 year old buggy had gotten us all the way here unscathed and this was a standard thing that just so happened to go out at an inconvenient time. In reality, of the whole trip, this was the best day and place for this to happen. We got the van to a service center, picked up a rental (that I LOVED!!! – can you tell?) and got right back to exploring. (P.S. I have been wanting a new car for a long time, so I consider this car trouble a little gift from heaven!)

We lost some time with the car issue, but still had time to hike Taggart and Bradley Lakes and do a little wading there. I got terrible blisters on both feet, so that combined with all the hiking aggravating my arthritis and I needed to dip my toes in the cool waters!

The heat wave we had been experiencing the entire trip, was still in full effect here and apparently all the locals were taking advantage of the water. There were tons of people floating, boating and rafting in Taggart Lake. We could hardly find a spot along the shoreline, but once we did, all was well! We eventually tore ourselves away and made our way back to the condo for much-needed showers and dinner.

One note about these western states: they are dry! This made it really nice for touring as we weren’t derailed by rainy days, but the down side was that everything was super dusty. After a day out exploring, we were completely covered in dust. My once pink and black tennis shoes were totally gray! I have never looked so forward to a shower! Even the kids recognized their need for a shower and that is saying A LOT!

Day 12 – Day three at Tetons. We started with a float trip on the Snake River (we used Solitude Float trips and highly recommend them).

Then we hiked Swan Lake, Heron Pond and did a few other little walks. We considered driving to the towns of Moose and Teton Village, but we opted for laundry and cooking dinner instead. I know, we are party animals. As beautiful as the Tetons are, and we would gladly come here again just to take in the beauty, we felt like three days was enough to see all that we wanted to see. And really, we saw just about everything. We are not big shoppers and we don’t eat out much, so visiting little towns with lots of shops and restaurants is not a big draw for us, though I think there is a lot of that here if that interests you.

Somebody got tired of taking boring, old pictures. I won’t say who.

Day 13 – We got up early and drove to Yellowstone, which was just about an hour north of our condo in Wilson, WY, just outside of Jackson. By the way, Jackson Hole is not a town, it’s just an area. The town is Jackson, but there are many smaller towns in the Jackson Hole area.

We drove in the South entrance to Yellowstone and spent our day exploring the Old Faithful geyser region. We started with a ranger tour that provided an overview of the thermal features in Yellowstone. This was super educational and we’re very glad we took the time for it.

This geyser area was pretty interesting, although not the breath-taking beauty we experienced at Grand Tetons. Some of the geysers and thermal pools were amazing colors like the one below. And others were just bubbling pots of mud and sulphur. 

This one is called Dragon’s Breath and it really sounded like a fire-breathing dragon was in that cave.

Mud Volcano. Apparently, this bison is a huge fan.

We were able to see quite a few eruptions of various geysers, including Old Faithful, and everyone enjoyed that a lot. My son, in particular, thought this area was very cool. We were just walking along a path and there’s this huge bubbling pool of green water a few feet away.¬†We also toured the Old Faithful Inn. This is a pretty magnificent structure! I was a little disappointed to not be staying there (even though it really didn’t work for us with no private bathroom/laundry/kitchen) so it was a nice treat to at least get a tour of the building where we could learn all the history.

Our last stop for the day with the famous, Grand Prismatic Spring. There were so many people here! It was really the first time on our trip that I felt like it was crowded even though people had warned us that the crowds in July would be unmanageable. That really wasn’t our experience except for a few isolated times. This was one of them! Around all these geyser areas are fairly narrow boardwalks and if you step off (or fall off) you might break right through the earth’s crust into bubbling, caustic water. No joke. This is not a place to mess around. But we saw kids running wild, people with their faces glued to devices (of course) and paying absolutely no attention to where they were going or who they were going to bump into. It was nuts. And to top it all off, this *supposedly* magnificent spring looked like this:

Needless to say, I was disappointed. A couple people had told us that there was a way to view Grand Prismatic from above and that was much more impressive, but we could not find that access. As we were snapping these pics and trying to make it look beautiful in our minds, I spotted some people across from us very, very far away. Ah ha! We had discovered the secret path. Now, we just had to find it! Eventually we did find the access to that path. The down side was that it required another two miles of walking. But we did it and the view was worth it!

This picture doesn’t really do it justice, but in real life, the colors in this pool were amazing!

We were staying in a little cabin outside the West entrance to Yellowstone so this made a nice little loop for day one (in the South Entrance and out the West). I can’t honestly recommend the place we stayed so I won’t give a link to the exact rental. However, I will say that it was nice to once again be in a house with a kitchen and laundry and staying in the West Yellowstone area was fairly central for our touring. Yellowstone is enormous and will require a lot of driving, so just be prepared for that. You could stay in each of the different regions of the park, but honestly, I don’t think you would be able to find availability at all of the hotels so more likely, you will just need to pick one area, stay there happily and then drive to all the other areas.

Here are a few pics of our rental. It looks pretty neat in the pictures, and it was, but it was filthy and in a pretty sketchy area.

The living room with stairs to the loft.

The kids’ loft bedroom – separate space from the parents and separate beds – heaven! A little more luxurious than a tent.

We were quite the hipsters on this trip, eating dinner on average at 9:30 PM!

Day 14 – Day two at Yellowstone we entered from the West (duh, since we exited that way the night before) and headed over to the Canyon region to explore the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone.

There is a north rim and a south rim and there are hikes/walks on both sides. There was a lot of construction going on in this area so we did all the hikes possible.

We hiked down, down, down through tons of switchbacks with way too many people to arrive at the top of this waterfall. The volume of water was amazing.

I’m pretty sure this is the same waterfall from the picture above.

Then we drove up to Roosevelt Lodge because we had reservations that night for the Chuckwagon Cookout.

A little pre-dinner snack of huckleberry ice cream bars. Huckleberry ice cream is one of the Wonders of the World, I’m sure of it.

Cookout, as the locals call it, was part dinner theater, part… I’m not sure what to call it. When I made the reservation, I thought it was a serious wagon ride/ historical tour to a dinner. It was definitely light-hearted and more fun than history lesson. The whole evening was super fun and the food was delicious.

There was music, strong coffee, funny stories, and strong coffee. These guys kept threatening to give the coffee to all the kids who were not being supervised!

Our wagons were pulled by these beautiful animals.

Everybody’s a comedian.

Bonus: we saw a coyote and a bison real close up. Apparently, bison have poor eye sight so when we approached one pretty big fella right beside our wagon train, the drivers all hustled up and got the wagons really close together so that the bison would see us as one great big thing rather than a bunch of smaller ones. The fear was that he would take off running and try to cut between the wagons. Add that to your bison book of knowledge.

The Roosevelt/Tower area of Yellowstone, which was the home base of our wagon ride and dinner, was a good two hours from the West Entrance to the park. We made it back to our rental pretty late and extremely dirty. We cleaned up and then got some much-needed rest.

Come back soon for week 3. If you have specific questions about our trip or any of the places we visited, please ask in the comments. I’d LOVE to talk more about it! Maybe too much!