Eynn and I took a week-long little holiday to see her sister, Aly, in Salt Lake City. Our hosts had to work all week so Erynn and I decided to take a trip up to Yellowstone National Park for a couple days.
On one of our first nights in town, Aly and Kris took us up to Ensign Peak to see where Kris proposed to Aly. As you can see, at dusk the view is incredible. The photo shows Erynn Aly and Kris with Ensign Peak in the background. Kris and Aly also have a web site that you can visit HERE
While Aly and Kris were off working we went exploring downtown Salt Lake. Our first stop was Temple Square, which is the administrative center and one of the spiritual centers of the The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints more commonly known as the Mormons.
At the heart of Temple Square is the Salt Lake Temple that was begun in 1853. Granite was quarried almost 20 miles away and transported over many days by ox cart to the Temple site. I took the aerial photo from the observation deck on top of the LDS Office Building. To the rear of the Temple you can see the silver roof of the Tabernacle (one of the few acoustically "perfect" structures in the world) where the Mormon Tabernacle Choir sings. It was under renovation when we were there so I only got exterior photos. The other photo shows the statue of the Angel Moroni on top of the main Temple spire.
Other fixtures of Temple Square include Assembly Hall (left) and the LDS Conference Center (right). In front of the Assembly Hall is the Sea Gull Monument, which commemorates the fact that if hungry birds from the nearby, gigantic lake hear a million crickets in the local fields they think "Dinner!". Or a miracle if you swing that way, but what do I know.
The Conference Center is where a number of LDS functions take place to take some pressure off the Tabernacle, which was completed in 1875. The photo shows a bunch of gardens on the roof, and the inside is supposed to be beautiful. Non-worthy individuals are not allowed inside the Temple, but the other buildings are generally open to the public. Unfortunately, we didn't make it inside the Conference Center due to time constraints.
One of the things I liked was this plaque describing the Salt Lake Base Meridian. All city streets are named and numbered from this point. Mostly in a grid. More importantly, I was able to calibrate my GPS, but more on that later. Erynn also had to phone her dad to let him know she made it to Temple Square.
Both Aly and Kris attended the University of Utah - he for his bachelor degree and she for her masters.
At the southern edge of campus is the football stadium, and just outside of the stadium is Cauldron Park that commemorates the 2002 Winter Olympic Games that were held in Salt Lake City.
Here's Erynn in front of the Hoberman Arch, which is part of Cauldron Park. The red pillars of Rice-Eccles Stadium are very distinctive and can be seen from across the Great Salt Lake Valley.
Just down the street from Aly's place is the Wasatch National Forest. There are a couple pretty waterfalls just a short hike from the road. Above you can see Aly and Erynn hiking the few hundred yards to Hidden Falls and Erynn posing with me in front of the falls.
We drove up the road a bit and hiked to Doughnut Falls. Unfortunately, when we got there we saw there had been a rock slide in front of the falls. You can just see the dark spot in the middle of the left photo. There was a rock bridge that the water went through that looked like a doughnut. Most of the view is now obscured by rocks. However, the obscured view did not stop Erynn and Aly from climbing up the rock cliff to get a better look.
Erynn and I drove up to Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks. The trip to West Yellowstone, the small tourist town at the west entrance to the park, took about five hours from Salt Lake City. We went one day and came back the next, and in the process drove through Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming. States neither Erynn nor I had been to. We drove across the Continental Divide about six times as it snakes its way through the park. We had a great time and I encourage you to visit. I took a couple hundred photos during the two days, but only have space for a few. Yellowstone National Park was the first national park designated as such by Congress in 1872. The urgency to protect the area was due to over exploitation by visitors, concessionaires and hunters. Even when the park was under government control the idea of proper conservation was much different than it is today. As a result most of the major attractions have access roads that go within a couple hundred yards of them. The park is huge and to fully appreciate all of its aspects you'd have to spend a large chunk of time exploring on foot. But if you want to see everything that you'd see on a postcard just hop in your car and spend a few days driving around like we did. Truly an American vacation experience.
On the first day in Yellowstone we drove around the north half of the Grand Loop from the west entrance. On the way into the park US 20 runs along the Madison River. Above are a couple photos of us by the river. There were a number of fly fishing shops in town and fly fishermen in this river. The scenery was amazing. You can see in the background of my photo all of the burnt trees. Yellowstone suffers from natural forest fires like all forests in the west. The park service allows naturally occurring fires to go their course and only protect buildings from burning. As a result, as you drive around the park, many of the trees are burned. However, we felt you could actually see more of the geological formations without a bunch of leaves in the way.
Everywhere we went in the park you'd often see a large group of people standing looking in a particular direction. This was a telltale sign that there was something to stare at. Most often than not it was an elk. However, it wasn't like you could actually get that good of view. The wildlife in Yellowstone are pretty used to humans, and I guess I didn't understand the attraction of standing in a spot for ages looking at a bear laying in the grass hoping it may yawn or something (right photo).
The first hot spring we came across was the Terrace Springs on the way into the park toward Norris. A short distance down the road was Beryl Spring, which gets its name the blue-green water. Erynn was happy enough to oblige a photo.
Next up were the Artist Paintpots, with their bubbling pots of mineral-rich water and mud. The walk to the paint pots were one of the longer ones on our trip, but it was still only less than a mile. You can see in the photo that there are incredible trails and boardwalks throughout the area. I reckon this is for a couple reasons: straying from the path can be dangerous and to keep the sites available to all no matter their physical capacity.
The Norris Geyser Basin was the first major site we went to. We made the Yellowstone rookie mistake: we spent too much time in one spot. Actually it was just about perfect if we were spending all week in the park. This panorama shows the Back Basin. We actually walked around the entire Back Basin Trail.
Part of the reason why we spent so long at Norris was because we were awestruck and I was playing around with my handheld GPS unit recording coordinates of the geysers. Yes, I'm a bit of a dork. The GPS coordinates of this particular one, Fearless Geyser, are N44 43.447 W110 42.371 if you were wondering. We had also just spent about seven hours in the car and were a bit loopy. I had Erynn pose for the photo on the right to worry our parents. Note: No wives nor hot springs were harmed during the filming process.
Mental note to self: Just go to the Garmin web site and buying the topographic maps for the national parks so you don't waste as much time as I did playing around. I did have fun though.
Spending too much time in the Back Basin didn't leave any time to walk around the Porcelain Basin. However, I was able to take this cool photo of the geyser and hot spring activity.
I liked this picture of Roaring Mountain for a couple reasons. You can see how close the road travels to many of the cool sites and how scared the landscape looks. The whole side of the hill is smoking and spitting out stuff you don't want to get on you. You can also see Wilbur, our rental car, off to the right. He was a white Dodge Stratus, and a constant reminder for the entire trip of how the Big 3 continue to lose market share to other companies that can build a good car.
The next major stop on our tour's first day was the Mammoth Hot Springs. We drove around the upper terraces and then went to the historic Fort Yellowstone and visitor center in the valley below. Here you can see Erynn posing by a tree with the valley and fort below. She's standing next to the New Blue Spring, which is shown in the other photo.
Here are just a couple random photos I liked. The one on the left is from the Upper Terrace Drive and the left photo shows the terraces from the main road so you can see how big they were.
The old Fort Yellowstone was used to by the Army until 1918 to protect the park before rangers came into existence. Now it is a small town near the north entrance to the park that houses the park headquarters, post office, engineer's office, a visitor center, and park worker's housing. Just out of town I stopped to snap this photo of the bridge that crosses the Gardiner River.
Here's a petrified tree. If you go to Yellowstone you can skip this one now that you've seen it.
It was getting pretty late in the day and nearly 12 hours in the car by this point. Hence the disappointment with the petrified tree. I kept wanting to stop at the little road pull-offs and Erynn kept rolling her eyes. However, with this one she thanked me because it was stunning. Just north of Tower Falls are the Calcite Bluffs where we took these photos. The depth of the canyon and view of the cliffs was amazing. Some guy even let us borrow his binoculars to see a bald eagle on the opposite cliffs. We did go to Tower Falls, but the path was closed due to a landslide and the pictures I did get we partially obscured.
After spending the night back in West Yellowstone, we headed south along the Grand Loop toward Old Faithful. Some things we learned while in West Yellowstone: the Canyon Street Grill (N44 39.592 W111 05.981) serves a great lunch with tater tots - Erynn was very happy and the Wild West Pizzeria (N44 39.626 W111 05.887) serves some awesome za. I included the GPS coordinates just in case you thought I was slipping.
Just as we turned south on the Grand Loop from US 20 there was this little one-way service road through Firehole Canyon. This was one of the better detours we took because the canyon was spectacular. Unfortunately, it was early in the morning and the sun hadn't peered over the canyon wall, which cast a ton of shadows on my photos. The left photo shows Firehole Falls conveniently in the shade. Just down the road (up river) is a place you can actually swim in the river (N44 37.097 W110 51.601) so I jumped out and had Erynn take a photo. Cliff jumping was discouraged and, I think, illegal.
Above is a photo of the Fountain Paint Pot. I keep mentioning how driver-friendly the sites are, but check out the gravel to the lower right of the photo. This used to the be the road, but after an earthquake a few decades back a geyser blew a hole in the tarmac. The park officials didn't think this was great for the visitors so they moved the road a few hundred yards away. This Montana Caddy was in the parking lot. God Bless America!
The Lower Geyser Basin that contains the Fountain Paint Pot is actually pretty cool. The paint pot is huge as you can see from the people in the background. Depending on the amount of rain, it'll gurgle and spout out some noxious gas and mud.
Another scenic route is the Firehole Lake Drive. Along it you'll see the Great Fountain Geyser shown above, which is by all accounts much more impressive than Old Faithful. In fact, many geysers are more impressive, but they suffer from the trait that their eruption prediction window is difficult and wide. Therefore, you can't build a gigantic visitor center, store and hotel next to them like Old Faithful. This one erupts every 8-12 hours for nearly an hour at nearly 200 feet max. When we arrived we were about an hour early for the two hour window so we didn't stick around.
The highlights of the Midway Geyser Basin are the Excelsior Geyser and the Grand Prismatic Spring. The photos above show Erynn by the Excelsior Geyser. The geyser pumps about 4,000 gallons of water into the nearby Firehole River. You can see the water pouring down behind Erynn. This geyser also tends to erupt infrequently but very violently. The right photo shows Erynn with the crater made from an eruption behind her.
The Grand Prismatic Spring was one of the neatest features of the park in my opinion. You'll have to click on the link HERE if you'd like access to some good aerial photos because from ground level you only get a little of the neatness. The photos I have here show the multi-color bacterial mats that emanate from the spring. They're like little forests of ancient bacteria. The other thing you notice as you approach the spring is the blue and orange steam puffing off it. It's very subtle and hard to photograph well as with rainbows.
The last stop before Old Faithful was the Black Sand Basin. Here is Erynn standing in front of the Emerald Spring.
Anyone who has heard of Yellowstone has heard of Old Faithful. The geyser erupts every 45-110 minutes and is predicted by the park rangers. As you can see, hundreds of people generally show up to watch the event. Eruptions last between 1.5 to 5 minutes, which was enough to snap Erynn's photo with the Geyser and to take a quick video that you can see HERE. It's almost like you were there (for 3 seconds at least). For other useless trivia about Old Faithful you can click here.
A funny thing happened right before I took these photos... as I was standing there with camera and GPS in hand, a gentleman approached me and asked if I would take a photo of him and his wife while the geyser erupted. Of the thousand people there he chose to ask the guy with more electronics than Best Buy. As you can imagine I politely said no and that I'd be taking my own photos with my own wife in them to take to my own home. Enjoy!
After Old Faithful we hightailed it south to the Grand Teton National Park, which butts up against the southern edge of Yellowstone. On the way, we crossed the Continental Divide again and on this occasion Isa Lake. The lake actually straddles the Divide and feeds both the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans via the Snake and Columbia Rivers. Very Cool.
The Grand Teton National Park encompasses the Teton Range of mountains and the glacial moraine to their east. The mountain range is the youngest in the Rocky Mountain system and were formed by plate tectonics a couple million years ago. The Teton fault lies at the base of the mountains and eight peaks rise over 12,000 feet. I imagine many people that make their way to Yellowstone never venture south to the Tetons and to Jackson Hole, Wyoming. I'm not sure we would have either without the urging of Erynn's dad. While in college, he used to be a guide on the Snake River and fell in love with the Tetons. We just breezed through, but if we had it to do over again we would have definitely spent more time here.
The national park system has been constantly enlarged since Yellowstone was founded in 1872. John D. Rockefeller, Jr. took a particular interest in the area and started buying up tons of land to the south of Yellowstone for the purpose of adding to the Grand Teton National Park. The small stretch of parkway connecting the Yellowstone and Grand Teton parks is named in his honor. Almost immediately upon entering the park from the John D. Rockefeller Memorial Parkway you come around a corner and are stuck by the image above. The really grand peaks of the Cathedral Group are still off in the distance, but the grandeur of the mountain range is apparent.
As you drive south on the main Teton Park Road, all you see to the right is the mountain range. Below the mountain and on top of the fault are a series of lakes. Here is a photo of Erynn looking at the mountains in Colter Bay Marina at Jackson Lake. How would you like to go house boating here?
Another scenic detour took us to the top of Signal Mountain. The mountain is east of Mount Moran with Jackson Lake in between. There is a little access road that takes you Jackson Point overlooking the Teton Range and the summit overlooking Jackson Hole. The valley floor behind Erynn used to be called a "hole" by early settlers because the valley appears to be completely sunken and surrounded by mountains. The town of Jackson is a few miles away on the southern border of the park. Hence Jackson Hole.
The view of the mountains is pristine from Jenny Lake. The visitor center is directly east of Grand Teton, which rises over 13,000 feet. Erynn's dad told her numerous times that this was his favorite spot and that she should see it too. He was right, it was pretty, and Erynn was busy trying to find a good enough signal to send him a picture message to prove she made it. I also took a photo of this B9 Tribeca to prove people do buy the cars. In fact, Subaru should sponsor the national parks, because there were so many Outbacks and B9's in the park.
Jackson, Wyoming borders the Grand Teton National Park to the south. We stopped in for a bite to eat at the Bunnery. The sandwich was so big I had to take a picture. The town is quaint with the downtown resembling an old western town. I would imagine tourism for the parks feeds the town in summer and skiing on the nearby slopes in the winter.
Upon leaving Jackson, I plugged Aly's house into the GPS and I let it decide the best way back. Night was fast approaching and we'd been in the car all day so we wanted to make haste. We headed south on US 89 to Freedom, WY where crossed into Idaho. We the followed Tin Cup Creek on Idaho 34, which is the second best road ever. Somewhere in the middle of Idaho before you get to Wayan turn left onto Wayan Loop Road. The road quickly turned to gravel and we wished we had rented a Subaru instead of Wilbur. The GPS then told us to take the Henry Cutoff through the Caribou National Forest which is THE BEST ROAD EVER. Actually it's a gravel single track in the middle of nowhere that summits a small mountain and is only a dotted line on the GPS map. I LOVE my GPS. At the summit we took the photo to the left. As we descended and exited the national forest, the sun was setting and I took a picture of this beautiful house. The cutoff maybe knocked 30 seconds off the big dog leg that Idaho 34 takes, but if you're ever in the same spot, take the cutoff!!!
Once we returned to Utah and rested a bit from our two days in the car, Aly and Kris took us to the Park City Mountain Resort to ride the Alpine Slide. The slide is a mini luge course down the main ski mountain. The Park City resort has a number of fun things to do in the summer to help generate revenue in the off season. The slide has four slides split into pairs. Aly and Kris rode one pair and we rode the other.
Here we are on the Payday chair lift to the top...
Here's Erynn before the ride and right at the end. Her expression is decidedly different at the end. By some miracle of physics she was beating me half way down the slide, and quite frankly, getting a little cocky. That was when we came around a corner and there was a women on her slide going about 2 mph and frightened out of her skin. The women and launched nearly 4 minutes ahead of us, which is amazing because the entire takes less than a minute even if you use a little brake. Needless to say, I won the day and Erynn was none too pleased.
After our sliding adventure, we headed to Midway, Utah for dinner with Aly & Erynn's Aunt Bonnie and Uncle Tim. The dinner at the Mountain House Grill was excellent, but the company was even better.
Near Sundance and Mount Timpanogos in the Uinta National Forest is the Stewart Falls. The falls are a couple mile hike from the car park.
Having to work off the previous night's dinner in Midway, Tim and Bonnie accompanied the four of us to the falls. The hike to the mountain wasn't all that strenuous, but somehow I managed to lose about 5 pounds to sweat. Whoever says that the West has a dry heat just give them a smack for me. Hot is hot! Darn it.
While waiting for the laggards to catch up, Kris was waiting for divine inspiration. Fortunately, the inspiration for Erynn already came. She wished her other sister, Amy, could've joined us too.
It was a pretty hike, but I was at the peak of a cold I was fighting. So I was particularly cheerful. My trusty GPS made me happy though. N40 23.173 W111 36.267 if you wondering...
© 2006 Doug Rathburn