Category Archives: National Parks

Drive Between Yellowstone & Mount Rainier National Parks ~ August 17-19, 2014

After grabbing dinner at the Old Town Café in West Yellowstone, we gassed up the “Escape Mobile” and headed north to connect with U.S. 287 — a highway we had traveled countless times across north Texas, but never across Montana.

Hands down, the Montana portion is more interesting and beautifulLake Hebgenwhile traversing the east bank of the Madison River, between canyon walls, and along the shorelines of several lakes.

Positioned in the lower western sky, the sun provided great photo opportunities of the lakes. (Photo above is Hebgen Lake.)

A particularly long stretch of a lake prompted our curiosity and called for us to stop at its overlook point. Quake Lake, MontanaQuake Lake had been formed exactly fifty-five years prior when the combination of an earthquake, massive landslide, and subsequent rushing, rising water flooded the valley.

Just minutes after the quake and slide, the new lake began forming. In the following weeks, it grew to encompass an area five miles long and 190 feet deep.

 

The formation of the lake came at a great cost – twenty-eight people died the evening of the earthquake, either by drowning or being crushed in the landslide.

For Trey and I to be the only individuals standing above the former campground on the 55th anniversary date of its tragic demise, was surreal and humbling.

Tree tops emerging from Quake Lake
Dead silver treetops emerge from Quake Lake as an eerie reminder of the past.

Before continuing the drive to Butte, where we would spend the night, we said a short prayer in honor of the lost souls.

Spokane, Washington

The 316 mile trip from Butte to Spokane…Montana Landscapeincluded a seventy-four mile trek across the top of Idaho.

As we approached Idaho, the trees grew dense, steep ravines began crossing under Interstate 90, and fall colors dotted the hillsides.

 

We were in Idaho just long enough to realize we should have planned a stay there. Next time.

After settling into a hotel on the outskirts of Spokane, we headed downtown for dinner and a walking tour of the city. Spokane was a pleasant surprise because we had no expectations. No thoughts whatsoever, other than a place to sleep for the night. I think perhaps its location in eastern Washington, and its lack-luster name, conjures up images of dust and doldrums.

Spokane is the opposite — lively and lovely. Spokane, WaThe Spokane River runs through the city’s center. A river walking path was being extended as a part of a larger Riverfront Park renovation plan.

Spokane Riverfront Park Improvements
Part of Spokane’s new river-walk and Riverfront Park revitalization efforts

On to Mt. Rainier…

We stopped at a lookout point outside of Vantage, Washington to bask in our first sight of the immense Columbia River. Columbia RiverGinkgo Petrified Forest State Park lay just beyond the opposite bank and was once home to the Wanapums, an indigenous, peaceful tribe of fishermen who are near extinction.

 

A few hours after crossing the Columbia, and after refueling both the car and our bodies in Ellensburg, we soon caught our first glimpse of the mammoth Mount Rainier. Mt Rainier in the distanceThe sighting renewed our energy and enthusiasm for the remaining two hour drive to our campsite.

Yellowstone & Grand Teton National Parks, Wyoming ~ August 13-17, 2014

Upon entering Yellowstone National Park’s northeast entrance (located on the Montana-Wyoming border) we were greeted by Buffalo, and more buffalo escorted us throughout the 85 mile drive to the Grant Village Campground.

First stop along the trek was an overlook view of Tower Fall, the famous 132 foot waterfall of the Yellowstone River.

Tower Fall, Yellowstone River
Tower Fall, Yellowstone River (namesake taken from the surrounding rock spirals)

The overlook sits at the junction of the Yellowstone River and Tower Creek which also permitted us to experience the strength of the water forcing its way through the canyon.

Yellowstone River
Convergence of Tower Creek and the Yellowstone River south of Tower Fall

There is no shortage of wonders along Grand Loop Road which wends through the heart of Yellowstone and around the north shore of Yellowstone Lake.  For this reason, the two-and-a-half hour drive took us about four hours, getting us to our campground with just enough daylight to set up camp and grab dinner at Lake View Cafe.

Yellowstone Lake @ Sunset
Yellowstone Lake @ Sunset

 

Grant Village Campground

Grant Village is located in the southern end of the park on the “west thumb” of Yellowstone Lake, and within the volcano’s caldera. Our third experience camping, and our third experience pitching our tent in the rain.

Grant Village Campsite
Grant Village Campsite, Loop K #391

What a great camping experience! Our site, 391 on Loop K, was spacious and sits near the ledge of a shallow ravine.

Yellowstone is wild, and camping provides a great opportunity to experience that wild. On several nights we were awakened to the howls and barks of wolves running through the ravine below.

The third morning we woke with the sun and to a strange snorting noise outside our tent. A quick look out the window eased our minds – the noises were from two elk cows and four calves grazing just outside.

The calves decided to nestle down in the grass around our tent and keep us company through breakfast.

With everything one would need from restaurants, showers, a post office, and general store, Grant Village is truly a village. We particularly enjoyed exploring the campground by bicycle and the Ranger’s educational presentations at the visitors’ center.

We learned:

  • Yellowstone’s supervolcano incurred three major eruptions over the past 2.1 million years, and it’s doubtful another one will take place within the next 10,000 years.
  • Grizzlies’ forage after dark in the summer months and during the day in the spring and fall.
  • The native lodgepole pine tree has a second type of cone that opens only under the extreme heat of fire assuring the species’ survival

 

Thermal Geysers

There are more than 10,000 thermal geysers in Yellowstone, and Trey attempted to see them all! Kidding, but at times it seemed as if that was his goal.

Of course Old Faithful was a must-see, and due to its southern location, it was our first stop.

Old Faithful
Old Faithful erupting on schedule

Most of the geyser touring areas line Highway 191 on the park’s west side. Raised boardwalks varying in distances from a quarter mile to two miles cut between geysers and keep visitors safe from the unstable, scalding hot ground.

Sapphire HOle
Sapphire Geyser

While visiting each geyser area was impossible over a five-day period, we exhausted ourselves checking out Old Faithful Basin, Biscuit Basin, Fire Hole Loop, and Norris Geyser Basin.

Morning Glory Geyser
Morning Glory Geyser

 

 

Grand Teton National Park

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Grand Teton’s north entrance is located 54 miles south of Yellowstone’s Grant Village which made it ideal for a day trip. After checking out Lewis Falls, we headed out of Yellowstone via the John D. Rockefeller, Jr. Memorial Parkway.

The Parkway follows the Snake River and then Jackson Lake, with the Tetons laid out along the other (west) side of the lake.

The day was spent mostly touring the park in the “Escape Mobile.” There is much to see by car including Signal Mountain, which offers great vantage points for both the Tetons and the Snake River Valley to the east.

View from Signal Mountain
Looking east from Signal Mountain

The initial plan was to hike around Lake Jenny, but we decided to explore more of the park rather than spend the day on a 7-mile hike.

Jenny Lake
A short, but steep, hike to Jenny Lake’s edge, we arrived just as a swimmer made it across from the west side. (his arm is visible in lower left of photo)

As an alternative, we chose the shorter Taggart Lake-Beaver Creek Trail, a 3.8 mile loop. Instead of looping, we hiked about a mile-and-a-half in and backtracked. The trail offered gorgeous shots of the Tetons.

A lovely day that we ended with a fabulous dinner at the Jackson Lake Lodge, donated to the park by JD Rockefeller, Jr. Despite being under-dressed in our hiking clothes, we were seated at window table with a prime view of the Tetons.

Great food! Afterwards, we stepped outside and onto the Lunch Tree Hill trail for a short hike up a ridge overlooking the valley and Grand Tetons. Trey was hoping to see moose, but the sun set while we waited.

Outside of Jackson Lake Lodge

 

Leaving Yellowstone

Having depleted most of our energy, we opted to pull up stakes in Yellowstone a day early, breaking up the 500+ drive to Spokane. We toured another geyser basin on our way to the west exit, where we were escorted out by more buffalo.

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Note, though visiting Yellowstone in mid-August, we kept our jackets handy at all times. The evening temperatures fell into the 30’s, and some afternoons brought sudden, but short-lived, storms and hail.

More Yellowstone Wildlife…

 

Acadia National Park, Maine ~ July 4-8

Trey and I had heard from multiple sources that Acadia National Park was one of the most beautiful national parks in the country, so it was one of the first destinations that came up in discussions as the possibility of our travels began to evolve.

We arrived from Boston at the park’s Seawall Campground in the early evening, just as a line of rain that was preceding Hurricane Arthur caught up with us.   Seawall is a popular walk-in campground located in the southwestern part of the park.  I was glad we had made reservations as the campground was completely full despite the weather.

Acadia, Seawall Campground
Acadia, Seawall Campground

It was our second camping experience, and the second time we pitched the tent in rain.  By sunset, the rain had strengthened and there was nothing else to do but crawl into the tent and call it a day.  We were awoken three hours later – Arthur, now a tropical storm, had officially arrived.  Gratefully, our campsite was in a bit of a valley and well shielded by tall pines.

Acadia campsite in the rain
Acadia campsite in the rain

Maine’s early sunrise took both Trey and I by surprise.  I guess if we’d thought about it, we should have expected sunrise by 5 a.m. or so, but no, we were not prepared for Maine’s 4:00 a.m. sunrises.

We left camp about 7:00 a.m. to head into town for breakfast and to stock up on camping supplies.  That was when we realized Arthur’s true fury – we ran into a large fallen pine tree on the foot path leading to the camp parking lot along with dozens of downed branches.  We encountered the same scenes driving through Southwest Harbor.

The island where Acadia National Park is located, Mount Desert Island, is mostly divided in half down the middle by the Somes Sound, which leads into the Atlantic Ocean — the island looks a bit like a pair of lungs.  As there are no bridges that cross the sound, we had to detour about an hour around the left, or west, lobe of the island in order to leave it because a large fallen oak tree had completely cut off access to the main road.  The drive to Ellsworth for groceries and supplies was another hour, so this simple task ended up taking up most of our day.  It was fine though because not much of anything else could have been accomplished on the dark grey, windy, rainy day.

When we finally returned to camp, the rain had turned into a drizzle and the remaining daylight allowed us to explore the campground and its surrounding trails.  We headed to the seawall and watched some brave surfers taking advantage of the high waves.

Surfer at Seawall Picnic Area
Surfer at Seawall Picnic Area

We walked out onto the rocks and admired the beauty of the northeastern coast line – the sight, we had longed to experience, did not disappoint.

Seawall, Acadia National Park
Seawall, Acadia National Park

Sunday morning’s beautiful blue sky and bright shining sun was a much welcomed sight and gave us renewed excitement and energy for exploring Acadia.

Southwest Harbor near Seawall Campground
Southwest Harbor near Seawall Campground

We first backtracked past our campsite to check out a light house that we had noticed on the island detour from the previous day.  Bass Harbor Head Light is the official name, so I guess does not merit being called a “light house” due to its small size.

Bass Harbor Head Light, 1858
Bass Harbor Head Light, 1858

We were excited nonetheless, as it was the first such light structure we had both experienced up close, and we thought it looked very stately and noble looking out over Bass Harbor where it has guided vessels since 1858.

Carriage Roads

With bikes in tow, we then headed to the eastern lobe of the island where 45 miles of roads accessible only by foot, bicycle or horse were constructed from 1913 through 1940 through the philanthropic effort of John D. Rockefeller, Jr.

The numerous interconnecting roads wind around lakes, through valleys and near coastlines of eastern Acadia.

Trey leading the way on one of Acadia's carriage roads
Trey leading the way on one of Acadia’s carriage roads

We selected a 13-mile route that would take us up to the northern coast of the island, loop southward crossing our starting point and then completing a figure 8 by looping further south around Eagle Lake.

Duck Brook Bridge, North Carriage Road, Acadia
Duck Brook Bridge, North Carriage Road, Acadia

It was a perfectly beautiful day and the roads led us to gorgeous vistas of the Maine coast, along raging creeks, across impressive stone bridges, and up and down the hills surrounding Eagle Lake.

Beaver haven along the carriage road
Beaver haven along the carriage road

The Bee Hive

In May, prior to our travels, Trey had to have some minor oral surgery and when he told his surgeon of our plans, the surgeon told Trey of two “must do’s” – the first was to hike the Bee Hive trail in Acadia National Park, and the other was to drive up to the summit of Mount Washington in New Hampshire.  He’d warned Trey that it was a strenuous hike and required climbing up rails that had been embedded into the rocks, but he also stated that the views were well worth it.

So we again headed to the east lobe of the park, this time taking Park Loop Road, a scenic one-way route along the eastern shoreline that loops around the south shore, then northward through the middle of the park.

The Bee Hive trail head is on the eastern shore above Sand Beach.  The hiking trail immediately headed upwards over rocks and through pines, and at times it was difficult to know if we were still on the trail due to all the rock.

View of Sand Beach from the Bee Hive Trail
View of Sand Beach from the Bee Hive Trail

After about a quarter of a mile however, the path narrowed and trail markers started pointing us upwards…and up…and up.

Beehive Trail, Acadia National Park
Beehive Trail, Acadia National Park

A particularly narrow pathway that towered over a rocky cliff had me shaking a bit, but we had gone far enough at that point that there was no turning back as people were coming up behind us and there’s only enough room for one person to pass on the hand and foot rails.

Beehive Trail, Acadia National Park
Beehive Trail, Acadia National Park

The vistas of the eastern coast line and of Bar Harbor, Maine were amazing, and I felt quiet accomplished once we safely reached the summit, which is only a mere 520 feet above sea level.

Glad to have made it to the Bee Hive summit!
Glad to have made it to the Bee Hive summit!

After catching our breath and a quick snack, we continued on a much easier trail that led down to a small lake.  Bowl Lake looked much like the glacier lakes found in the mountains of New Mexico and Colorado.

Bowl Lake, Acadia National Park
Bowl Lake, Acadia National Park

We followed the path around about a quarter of the lake, and then headed around the base of Bee Hive “mountain” and back to Sand Beach.

Cadillac Mountain

Following our hike, we continued driving around Park Loop Road stopping occasionally to take in the views of the Atlantic Ocean.

Thunder Hole, Acadia National Park
Thunder Hole, Acadia National Park

The road provides the only car access (there are several hiking trails) to Cadillac Mountain, the highest peak in Acadia at 1,530 feet.

There is a paved path at the summit that provides panoramic views of the park and coastlines.

Maine Coastline
Maine Coastline

The summit’s geography of rolling pink granite reminded us immediately of the Texas Hill Country (see feature photo at the top of this post).

View from Cadillac Mountain, Acadia National Park
View from Cadillac Mountain, Acadia National Park

We ended the day, our last in the beautiful State of Maine, with a lovely Italian dinner in Bar Harbor. A quaint, but touristy, city on the northeastern shore of Mount Desert Island.

Bar Harbor, Maine
Bar Harbor, Maine

Food

The town of Southwest Harbor has several good eating options.  We particularly enjoyed Little Notch Pizzeria, which has a menu that extends well beyond pizza, and for breakfast, the omelets at Eat-a-Pita are amazing.

Ben & BIlls Chocolate Emporium in Bar Harbor has a huge selection of homemade ice cream that includes unique flavors such as margarita, coconut macadamia & KGB (Kahlua, Grand Marnier & Bailey’s with fudge swirl).  We also loved their homemade dark chocolate clusters.

Best Ice Cream in Maine, Bar Harbor, Maine
Best Ice Cream in Maine, Bar Harbor, Maine

We had high expectations for Acadia National Park based on everything we had heard, and we both agree that those expectations were exceeded.  Acadia has definitely been a highlight of our travels, and comes up consistently when we’re asked such questions.

Butterfly, Acadia National Park
Butterfly, Acadia National Park