Wild About Wyoming – Yellowstone NP

I don’t even know where to begin. We have never been to a National Park with as much diversity as Yellowstone. To quote for the National Park Service website

Marvel. Explore. Discover.

Visit Yellowstone and experience the world’s first national park. Marvel at a volcano’s hidden power rising up in colorful hot springs, mudpots, and geysers. Explore mountains, forests, and lakes to watch wildlife and witness the drama of the natural world unfold. Discover the history that led to the conservation of our national treasures “for the benefit and enjoyment of the people.”

Yellowstone has been a national park for 146 years. Founded in 1872, it truly has something for everyone. We spent 3 days exploring and we could have spent 30. I doubt a lifetime would be long enough to see and experience everything. One of the things I loved about it was how much of it is accessible by vehicle…

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There are 5 entrances into the park and the main road is laid out in sort of a figure 8. We were staying at Henrys Lake State Park in Idaho (a place I sincerely recommend), so we always came into the park through West Yellowstone.  Visiting in late September was perfect, a light jacket was all we needed and the throngs of tourists who flock there in the summer had mostly vanished.

Within minutes of entering the park, we saw out first wildlife…

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The west entrance follows the Madison River and pullouts on the road allowed for photography without obstructing traffic…

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We drove along Firehole Canyon Drive to enjoy the first of several waterfalls…

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We spent the rest of the day checking out many of the geothermal spots. Between geysers, bacterial mats and boiling mud I was pretty much left speechless…

When we made it to Yellowstone Lake, we walked along the boardwalk. We were nearly done the loop when we came across a small herd of female elk and their young ones…

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Unfortunately,  there is an idiot in every crowd and a 20-something stepped off the boardwalk (for a better picture naturally) and spooked the herd. They moved down into the hot springs area and stayed there…

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On the way out of the park that evening, we were lucky enough to see a pair of bull elk not far from the road. We were the first to pull over and get a few shots. What I hadn’t immediately seen was the Great Grey Owl in the tree above them…

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It didn’t take long for the roadside to be crowded with cars, so we moved on before someone caused an accident.

The next day, we drove north after we entered the park, heading to the Mammoth Hot Springs area. When we passed Thundering Mountain, I had to stop and get a shot. Yes, I know you aren’t supposed to take pictures looking into the sun, but it was nearly blocked out by the steam. And, yes, that is a layer of frost on the ground…

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Just down the road, the scenery was such a contrast to the steaming mountain…

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We finally made it to the Mammoth Hot Springs and took some time to explore.  I was intrigued by the dew…

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Millions of tiny droplets covered the plants. And I caught a chipmunk having a mid-morning snack…

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But the colorful formations are what took the cake…

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Our final destination for day 2 was South Rim Drive. This lead us to the “grand canyon” of Yellowstone, complete with an amazing waterfall…

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Knowing it would be our last day in the park, we set off early to try and catch more of the wildlife. Of course I couldn’t pass up another waterfall…

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Just as we were passing by, these 2 buffalo decided to but heads…

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After watching them for a while, we headed towards Lamar Valley. From everything we had read, this was the best place for wildlife viewing. Also it was noted for being a well traveled wolf route. It wasn’t hard to know were the wolves were expected…

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Unfortunately, we arrived about 20 minutes after the wolves. They had already laid down for the day and wouldn’t become active again until late in the afternoon. It was interesting to note most of the tripods held spotting scopes, not cameras.

We spent most of the rest of the day just watching the buffalo and enjoying the scenery…

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We couldn’t leave Yellowstone without watching Old Faithful erupt. We got there early, found a seat and waited. It didn’t take long for the crowds to arrive…

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Old Faithful was as punctual as predicted and we watched her amazing 4 minute spectacle with awe…

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Steve and I  often talk about which of the national parks we have visited is our favorite. We almost always agree, you can’t possibly pick one over the other because they are all unique. Each one offers something special. But, I think Yellowstone’s diversity makes it my top pick!

I’d like to thank Laura over at Chapter 3 Travels. She and her husband, Kevin, visited Yellowstone a few months ago and wrote a fantastic piece about it. They stayed at Henrys Lake SP, which is how I found out about it.

Next up…Grand Teton National Park

Do you have a favorite national park? I’d love to hear about it…

Joining the 30% Club

We feel downright privileged to have been inducted into the 30% club! When we first arrived in Alaska, we had no idea such a club existed. The chalets where we worked were usually the final destination for our guests. They had already explored Fairbanks, Denali National Park and Anchorage. The Kenai Peninsula was the end of their adventures. Time after time, we heard stories of visiting Denali NP only to be terribly disappointed they didn’t get to see Mt. Denali. I mean, after all, it IS the tallest mountain on the continent – how can you not see it?!?!?

Mt Denali is 20,310 feet tall, that’s about 3 1/2 miles. Its 2 peaks are over 2 1/2 miles apart. It’s hard to imagine you couldn’t see it! But the fact is, given its location and size, it creates its own weather.

“Denali is so massive that it generates its own weather; much the way a huge boulder submerged in a river creates whitewater rapids. All mountains deflect air masses and influence local conditions, but Denali rises so abruptly and so high that this effect is more dramatic here than perhaps anywhere else on Earth. Storms barrel in from the Gulf of Alaska and the Bering Sea and collide with Denali’s towering mass. Weather can quickly change from sunny and clear to blizzard conditions with fierce winds, intense cold, and heavy snowfall.”

                                                         From The Alaska Range and Denali: Geology and Orogeny

This pattern of weather convergences means it can be sunny and 70˚ in town and Mt Denali could be obscured by fog and clouds. It’s estimated only 30% of visitors actually get to see Mt. Denali. We were in that 30% – FOR 3 DAYS IN A ROW!!!!   Denali means “the high one” in Koyukon, a subset of the Athabaskan language family, sometimes thought to mean “the great one.” Every time we got to see Mt Denali, I was in awe.

The park has an incredible history and many of the stories can be found here.

The First 15 Miles

a map showing the predominately east-west road through denali national park

Private vehicles can only be driven on the first 15 miles of the 92 mile park road. To go beyond Savage River, you must take the park shuttle or hike. We spent our first day driving those 15 miles and seeing all we could see…

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The view on the left side of the road
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Compared to the view on the right side of the road

It was strange how the left side of the park was in bathed in dappled sun while the right side was shrouded in clouds. There would be no view of Denali today, but, we did get to see some informative signage…

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And when we made it to Savage River, we were treated with a surprise…

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A rainbow over Savage River

We weren’t worried we didn’t see any wildlife on the first day. Guided by the weather forecast, the next day we planned a trip on the shuttle to the Eielson Visitor’s Center – Park Road Mile 66.

The First 66 Miles

We opted for the transit bus, as opposed to the narrated tour bus. The up side of the transit bus is you can disembark, hike, then grab another bus, while you have to remain on the tour bus. We promptly departed at 7:30am, along with 58 of our newest friends. Our shuttle driver Annie filled us in on what to expect, she said we’d stop for all wildlife sightings and several scenic overlooks, in addition to potty breaks for the 8 hour ride.

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Our first view of Mt Denali was over the mist settled in the valley. But, we had seen it! Already a member! As the morning worn on, we stopped for several wildlife encounters…

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Meet Mr Caribou
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Those 2 black dots at 2 o’clock and 8 o’clock are grizzly bears

It was a bit frustrating for me, jostling for a view out the window, but we made it work.

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Those white dots in the center are Dahl Sheep

Are you noticing a pattern? Lots of dots. The colors on the mountains reminded me of Death Valley, except this color came from brightly colored fall foliage instead of minerals…

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The park road winds past colorful mountains

A good part of our day was spent taking pictures like this…

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At mile 46, we stopped to check out Polychrome Overlook. The myriad of colors were astounding…

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Lots of buses filled with tourists

We also stopped along the route for the iconic picture of the park road with Mt Denali in the background. Yes, everyone else has taken this picture, but I couldn’t resist…

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We did get a closer view of some grizzly bears, but unfortunately, the sun was shining toward us and the bears ended up with a halo…

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We also saw a couple moose in the distance…

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And lots more “dots” on the mountains…

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I loved watching this group of caribou. With winter around the corner, they are beginning to shed the velvet covering their antlers. It’s  not a good picture, but the antlers were almost orange…

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The views, despite being out the window, were breathtaking…

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When we arrived at the Eielson Vistor’s Center, Mt Denali provided an amazing backdrop…

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We decided to stay at the vistor’s center and catch a later shuttle. We were treated with a couple minutes of solitude before the next bus arrived. While we were basking in the splendor of Mt Denali, some of the wildlife posed for a closeup…

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An Arctic Squirrel
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Munching away on an apple peel someone had carelessly or purposely dropped

The park rangers go to great length to educate the public about the dangers of feeding ANY of the animals. Annie had reminded us time and again, it was best to eat on the bus so as not to leave so much as a crumb for the critters. But, you know people, some of them just can’t help themselves.

We walked along the trail and looked back at the visitor center…

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And ahead to the 33 more miles to the base of Mt Denali…

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Hard to imagine, Mt Denali is still 33 miles away!

One of the interesting things about Denali NP is the fact it is a “trail-less” park, with a few exceptions near the entrance. People are encouraged to find their own path. Go out and walk on the tundra. Feel the springiness of it under you feet. Enjoy it in your own responsible way.

It was time to head back. We had seen everything we had hoped to except the wolves. Pretty darn good day!

Up next…Cruising the Denali Highway and Abandon Igloos

Are you a member of the 30% club? Did you even know there is such a thing? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

 

 

A FAIR-ly Amazing Day

I’m going to warn you right up front, this post is bursting with images. I was able to narrow down the 527 pictures I took to about 50. Give or take. Given the fact Fair Park is 277 acres, I think I did pretty well.

We have been planning our trip to the Texas State Fair for a couple weeks. We knew it wouldn’t be a cheap day, hence all of our recent freebie day trips. Fair Park is on the east side of Dallas and has been home to the Texas State Fair since 1886. You can read about all the history here.

We arrived just after the gates opened and scored a parking spot near the gate (all the empty spaces you see are reserved for the handicapped)…

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We bought our tickets online, part of a package which included admission and 100 ride/food coupons. We first ran into using coupons at Grapefest. I’m not really a fan of the system, I’d rather pay for my food using cold hard cash.  I think it is easier to plan using money than coupons, but I digress. Anyhow, our first stop was the cattle barn and judging arena…

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Most of the cows were lazing around waiting their turn…

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Others were being led to grooming stations…

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Where shampooing and combing awaited them…

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I’ve never seen a setup quite like this. Now, I’ve been to my share of fairs and always visit the livestock exhibits, but this really takes it to the next level! I was a bit disappointed there weren’t any longhorn cattle in the cow barn, afterall, this is Texas and longhorn are cattle. I wasn’t disappointed for very long! We stepped out of the building, on our way to the swine barn, and found this monster in a pen all his own…

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Yes, you read the sign correctly, someone was brave enough to get a measurement of this behemoths horn width. He was even more magnificent when he stood up…

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I absolutely loved his coloring.  On to the swine. I love piggies, always have. Of course I love piglets even more…

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Mama almost looks like she’s smiling. Cattle weren’t the only critters getting groomed for their showings…

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And people were getting in some last minute runway practice…

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Every time I look at this picture quickly, I think those pink spots on his snout are tusks. But if I wanted to see real tusks, I need not look any further than Borris…

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Our next stop was the horse barn. All of the horses were in bar lined stalls and you couldn’t really get close enough to take any pictures, but I was able to sneak a picture of probably the largest horse I’ve ever seen. This is saying something because I’ve been up close and personal with the Budweiser Clydesdales!  Meet Rossina, she is a Friesian. She is over 17 hands tall…

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I thought we were through with livestock viewing until we came to the Children’s Health Barnyard. The squeals of delight could be heard long before we entered the building. Kids of all ages were having a grand time. It was more like a petting zoo than a barnyard, with animals from around the world…

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This zebu was far more interested in getting her neck scratched than eating some handouts…

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Just outside the exhibit was the little red barn I’ve been hoping to find. Barns here are the same as barns in the northeast. Most of the are pole barns, but this is the type of barn I love…

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It was getting on towards lunch and the choices were so numerous I couldn’t decide. One thing I learned is Texans will deep-fry ANYTHING…

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Or wrap it in bacon…

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As we were walking past one of the many coupon booths, the reflection in the puddle caught my eye…

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We still hadn’t decided on lunch, so we walked into the food court. Overwhelmed is an understatement!

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Unfortunately, we stuck with something simple (but still expensive). We should have…

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And how do you top off lunch? With an adult beverage of course…

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So, I’ve covered livestock, cute animals and food. What else could there be? How about the art…

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And the history…

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Then…there are the shows! As we were walking along the esplanade, we happened to catch the Zu Zu African Acrobats. Their skill, flexibility and agility were astounding…

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I kind of covered statues when I mentioned art, but there is one statue that literally can’t be missed…Big Tex himself…

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If the size of the Wednesday crowds leave you feeling a bit on edge, not to worry! The Dallas PD has you covered…

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Our final adventure of the day was a ride on the sky wheel…

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There are 44 car on the wheel. I don’t know how tall it is but the views were stunning!

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I haven’t come close to showing you all the things to do at the fair. We skipped the aquarium and the botanical gardens because, well, let’s face it, I’m not a kid anymore! It isn’t that I wouldn’t have enjoyed them, I’d have loved them, but I was pooped!!!!

We still had about an hour and a half drive back to Waldo and it was time to call it quits. The day had one more surprise in store for us…

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A beautiful sunset to round out our trip.

What is your favorite thing to do at the fair?