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Thursday, October 15, 2009

Yellowstone -- After Thoughts & Tips

A rookie's experience to J.H, GTNP, and YSNP

Growing up and having lived in metropolitan cities for all my life, this was the first time I planned a whole week trip that was only about nature and wildlife.  

I did not own any outdoor gear, and my sneakers only touched the floor of the gym.   I ordered a pair of hiking boots online 2 days before the trip, which was probably unnecessary since the minimum of hikes we did were all very mild and tame. 

Turned out, lacking any connection to modern society was very easy to handle at this part of the world.  I did not miss any TVs, cellphones, newspapers, or internet access.  When facing such beautiful surroundings, life could be so simple.  It was hard not to feel joy when I see all the geographical wonders and exotic animals.  We did not even turn on the radio in the car when driving because the music felt like noise.  We wanted to hear the wind, the river, the geysers erupting, animal sound, and occasionally, something very very rare, complete silence....

Here are some tips I learned from this trip:
  • When to go:

    • I imagine we would feel less relaxed dealing with all the people and cars, if we visited the park at the peak of the tourist season in July and August.  I thought we were lucky with our timing as the weather was still warm enough for most of the park facilities and activites to stay open, and the crowds much smaller. 

    • The western cookout was extremely popular and could have as many as 200 people during the peak summer time.  The cookout only last till mid September.  There were about 50 people on that day for our cookout. Again, I imagine our experience would be quite different if we were there with 200 other people.

    • We were quite lucky with the weather when we visited.  There were only two brief thunderstorms and quick showers.  The temperature was in the 30's in the early morning, but it would warm up to the 70's during the day.  I am guessing that spring time would be a great time to visit if we wanted to see more animals.

  • Itinerary:

    • 7 days 6 nights felt like a good amount of time for the way we traveled since we did not do any serious hiking.  A half day for Jackson Hole and one full day for Grand Teton was enough for us.  

    • For a first time visitor, the geyser basins between Old Faithful and Madison junction would take two days to visit. 

    • If I could do something different, I would visit Lamar valley again in the early morning, book a two hour horse ride at the ranch, and spend one night in Grand Teton National Park. 

    • It is essential to stay in the park if you can to save the travel time back and forth. The speed limit is between 25 to 45 miles per hour.  The road close/construction and occasional animal traffic jam add time to the drive too. 

    • We loved our room in the original section of the Old Faithful Inn.  It was so quaint and full of character.  If you want the old room with bathroom in the Old Faithful Inn, book a year in advance. 

    • We had the best luck seeing wildlife at the crack of dawn.  It was so peaceful and serene to be on the road alone and watch the sunrise. 

    • Personally, I thought the Snake River Float was too slow and too long, but Hans enjoyed it.  There are many companies providing float trips.  Most companies have meeting points at the Moose Entrance, south end of the Grand Teton National Park.   I believe the Grand Teton Lodge Company is the only one that has its meeting point inside the Jackson Lake Lodge, which is at the north side of the Grand Teton National Park.

  • What to pack:

    • Layers of clothing is essential to deal with the drastic temperature changes throughout the day.  
    • Packing up food for lunche made our travel so much easier since restaurants and groceries are few and far in between inside of the park.  A cooler to store your food is definitely a good idea. 

    • A good camera is worth the investment.  Bring back-up batteries and memory cards. A pair of binoculars is a good addition if you have it.  A telescope would not be necessary to purchase just for this trip alone. 
    • Sunblock! I really did not realize how strong the sun can be at this high altitude until my chest got burned after the first day. 

    • A Swiss knife with a cork screw, knife, and scissors definitely comes in handy. 

    • Flashlights are a good idea, even for walking from the hotel/lodge lobby back to your cabins at nights.

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