The first day was a very long travel day. The family was going to gather in Wyoming, and get ready for the visits to the National Parks that were starting the next day.
We departed from BWI in the early afternoon. Arrival at Salt Lake City, UT, was in the early evening after a flight that lasted more than four hours. Angela landed up separately at about the same time. We picked up the rental car and began our drive towards Jackson, WY, as soon as we could. Very soon we were off the highway and driving north over smaller roads along the border of Idaho and Wyoming, with instructions being given to me every so often to turn either left or right from one road to another. This being the boondocks in the western states, the speed limits on these roads were quite high. Nevertheless, it took us about 5 hours to cover the distance and get to our destination.
Throughout our drive to Jackson, we were in touch with Christina and Jesse who were landing at Jackson Hole later in the evening. We all ended up meeting up at the restaurant for the Roadhouse Brewing Company in Jackson rather late in the evening just before the kitchen was about to close. We were hungry and thirsty. It had been a while since we had our lunch at BWI airport. The craft beer was welcome after the long drive. The food was good.
It was well past my normal bedtime by the time we started our drive from Jackson to Driggs, ID, to our place for the night. Very soon after we left town the road began to climb up the mountainside to the Teton Pass. We were warned about 10% grades! And then the snow also started falling. I had to slow down further on the winding mountain road. It was a little challenging. We crossed into Idaho after descending from the Teton Pass. We had a few more miles to drive after that to get to Driggs.
It was close to midnight (Mountain time!) by the time we located the place we were staying that night. I crashed out very soon. I was dead tired.
It was quite cold when we woke up the next morning, well below freezing. There was also a thin layer of snow on the car.Coffee was being made in the house, but, this being the first morning of the trip, we were not prepared for breakfast.Jesse and I drove into the main section of town to pick up something to eat. While we were there, we went to the local tire store to have the tires on the vehicle checked out since the low pressure indicator had come on. We were told that there was most likely nothing wrong with the tires. The change in the air temperature made events like the low pressure indicator coming on fairly common. It turned out to be the correct diagnosis. The indicator light went off after a few hours of driving. This phenomenon repeated itself the next day.
The objective for the first day was to drive towards Yellowstone National Park. We would have to drive north through Grand Teton National Park in order to get there. The goal was to get to our place for the night by evening time. This was going to be primarily a driving day. We would be driving into Yellowstone from the South entrance and leaving for our place for the evening through the West entrance (or exit, in this case).
After getting ready for the day and repacking our stuff back into our vehicle, we drove back towards Wyoming and Jackson. We had prepared ourselves for a very cold day. We had to drive through the Teton Pass once again, this time in the opposite direction. This being our first day in the mountains, we had to stop every once in a while to enjoy our surroundings and the recently fallen snow. We had not been able to see anything the previous night.It was snowing once again by the time we got to the top of Teton pass. Jackson lay in the valley in front of us, but the view was not very clear because of the precipitation. It was also very windy and brutally cold at the top of the pass, something that we were not that well prepared for. We had to take to obligatory pictures quickly. We stopped at the supermarket in Jackson to pick up some supplies for the next few days, and then we were on our way.
Soon we were beginning to get our first views of the Tetons – covered with a layer of fresh snow!Our first stop was to be the car rental place at Jackson Hole airport. The reason for the stop was to add one more driver to the list of people allowed to drive the rental vehicle. Unfortunately, our rental company did not have a booth in the airport. We had made the mistake of not stopping at their office in the town of Jackson on the way. I was going to have to drive the rest of the day since we did not have a registered second driver. The next opportunity for us to add such would be at the town of West Yellowstone in Montana, on the way to the place we were staying at for a couple of nights.
The airport lies in the vast valley to the east of the Tetons. I thought the background for the airport was stunning.The drive took us on the highway to the east of the Snake river.
Over millions of years, the river has carved out a meandering path over the plain. The layering of the erosion that happened at different times in the history of the river clearly shows, and can be studied more carefully from a few viewpoints. You can also drive down to today’s river side.On the way towards Yellowstone, we took a detour to the east towards a location that was supposed to have good views. We ended up driving through a snow storm. On the other side of the storm we arrived at a section of the Continental Divide and decided that this was a far as we would head in this direction. The views were not as great as we expected. We turned back after getting some nourishment into us.This was a view of the Teton Mountains on our drive back to the park.We passed an entrance to the Grand Teton National Park and stopped to take the obligatory picture.This was another view of the Grand Tetons as we were driving beside the Snake river.We had to actually drive through an entrance gate for Grand Teton NP, and then for a little while along a highway, before we got to the entrance for Yellowstone. At that point we discovered that one of the roads that was closed because of the weather was the one that went past the famous geyser, Old Faithful. This was the road that provided the most direct route to our destination for the night. Fortunately, the roads in Yellowstone form a loop, and we could come around to where we needed to be by driving around in the other, longer, direction. Instead of going clockwise in the loop, we went anti-clockwise.It was only now that we also began to realize that we had come to the park when things were beginning to shut down in general. In fact, the first Visitor Center that we went to at Grant Village, on the shore of the West Thumb of Lake Yellowstone, was about to close for the rest of the year. There were also no ranger-led tours for the rest of the year.
We drove by Lewis Lake and Lewis Falls during the early section of the drive within Yellowstone.We got onto the road that ran along the west shore of Lake Yellowstone.During the rest of the drive towards the west entrance of Yellowstone we drove past a our first herd of bison, backlit in the sun that was beginning to set.On our way out of the park, we stopped at the town of West Yellowstone to get some dinner before proceeding towards Island Park and our place for the night. We ate at what was rated to be the best restaurant in town. It was called the Wild West Pizzeria and Saloon. The place was busy and the pizza was good. The massive saloon area next to the restaurant seating had a native feel. I might have felt a little uncomfortable hanging out in that section of the establishment.
The town of West Yellowstone itself had its own unique feel. It is a small place and does not have the more modern and very touristy feel of a place like Jackson. From the nature of the buildings and the signs, I imagined being in a western town in a different place and time, perhaps in the movies. Things shut down for the winter. There are no supermarkets. I did not see any chain motels. Even the grocery store had character. The population definitely appeared to to be more homogeneous than I am used to experiencing. We did see a Chinese restaurant, and the some of the service staff at the restaurant that we ate at appeared to be Hispanic.
We had to drive a further distance from West Yellowstone to get to Island Park. We drove from Montana into Idaho during this drive. The road conditions were still a little dicey from snowfall. The local road that we drove onto in Island Park was covered with snow. (I found out later that the Toyota Highlander Sports Utility Vehicle (SUV) that I was driving was an All Wheel Drive vehicle. It was a free upgrade from the intermediate size SUV that I had originally booked with the rental company. That was a good thing!) We had good traction and clearance, which was especially important when we got on to the snow-covered and uneven gravel road that led to the log cabin we were staying at.
The cabin was real nice, except that it got very, very, cold that night, and we had issues with the gas fireplace and the heating in the house. The adults slept in the bedroom downstairs, that had its own heating. The kids slept upstairs in the attic.
The next blog in this series here.