Jackson Hole, Yellowstone, and Bozeman | Road Trip
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My three favorite places in the whole wide world are Jackson Hole, WY; Yellowstone National Park; and Bozeman, MT. We went two years ago for the third time and my hubby said, “OK, next road trip, we have to try someplace new!” Well, a year passed and he asked, “where’s our next vacation?” My answer, as it always is, was, “Yellowstone!” Luckily, he missed it as much as I did, and we began planning our fourth trip.
We road trip because Roxy loves to come with us — and also because I hate flying. It’s about 19 hours to where we stay in Jackson so we break up the trip a little with one night in Salt Lake City. We now have all our favorite food spots to stop at along the way so the trip really isn’t all that bad (food is really my main motivator in life). This year, we found a hotel in SLC that had a water slide. Greg and I were the only “adults” (I really use that term loosely) on the slide. Some little kids barely tall enough to meet the height requirement were on it with us. Their enthusiasm was contagious and we all had such a fun time! I really wanted to be like Napoleon from Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure, though, and throw the kids out of the way so I could get more slide time in, but I refrained.
My mom flew into Salt Lake City and we picked her up the following day before the final leg of our trip to Jackson. It was a beautiful drive! We stayed in a rental at the Jackson Hole Mountain Resort. It was so perfect — we had two bedrooms, two bathrooms, a full kitchen, separate dining area, and a super comfy living room. Everything was decorated with rustic wood and the house smelled so good. I really didn’t want to leave. Our first night there, I went out on our balcony and stared up at the Milky Way while listening to the chirping crickets and water flowing over the rocks in a nearby creek. It was really quite incredible.
Our first full day in Jackson, we went out wildlife spotting in the morning. One of our favorite places to go is Moose-Wilson Road. We lucked out because the road was closed half-way through, meaning traffic was light because the only cars on the road were there to spot wildlife! The first animals we saw were three beautiful bucks. They meandered through a beautiful golden field until they came to a tall fence. No problem, though, they just hopped right over it! We continued on our way, slowly, looking, listening. And then, we heard something! We thought for sure it was going to be a moose but after just a moment, we saw it was a black bear! He/she was eating berries getting ready for winter. The bear looked straight at us, turned, and walked away. What an incredible moment!
I really, really, really wanted a photo of the Grand Teton Mountains with water in front of them. Greg did some research and found a few possible spots, so we went out to do some scouting. We found the perfect spot and planned to be there for sunrise the next day. Oof, sunrise is tough but, man-oh-man, it’s worth it! As the sun came up and kissed the mountains with pink light, the animals came out to play. We could hear a bull elk hidden off in the distance, saw some deer nearby, and had quacking ducks fly overhead and land in the water.
After that, we made our way over to Mormon Row. The barns had construction going on, so I really didn’t get any great shots of them. That’s ok; we had play time with Roxy! She chased a few sticks and was so happy!
Dornan’s is a quick jump from Morman Row and we’ve always seen tons of moose there, so we decided to give it a try. While we didn’t see any moose, Greg spotted a little black bear walking up a nearby pathway! We parked the car, grabbed the camera, and raced to the top of a hill for a better vantage point. The little bear was moseying along until we were spotted, then he/she popped into the brush and down toward the river.
By this time, we were all starving, so to The Bunnery we went! While not dog friendly (come on, Bunnery!), we were able to snag a table on the edge of the patio so Roxy could stay on the outside yet we were all still together. The food there is absolutely delicious. Their biscuits and gravy (my weakness) were AMAZING and somehow lower-calorie than Greg’s “healthy” granola and soy milk. HAHA! Double sixes, I win again!
The next day was so rainy but it worked out — it was our travel day into Yellowstone. We did see a big bull elk just off the side of the road, though! He was lying down with his eyes closed, yet still eating the grass in front of him. What a silly elk!
After checking in to Canyon Lodge, we headed back to Hayden Valley. We saw lots of bison and elk on the hillsides and then… wolves! The creatures we came to see! There was a small group of them harassing a bison — probably a mama teaching her pups how to hunt — but the bison was big and told them, “Not today, wolves! Not today!”
The following morning was pouring rain so we slept in ’till 7:30. After getting a slightly later-than-normal start, we decided to drive through Hayden Valley but didn’t expect to see much — the animals were all surely back to their hiding spots. But as we drove by, we saw a canine not far from the road! It looked pretty big but the likelihood of it being a wolf was so slim, we figured it was a coyote. We debated turning around but we decided “why not.” Once I had the lens I dubbed Big Boy out (a rented 600mm), I could see it was collared! That meant it was a wolf! It was awesome to see one so close!!! He didn’t like the attention, though, and quickly trotted off into a gully. I know the photo is pretty terrible, but I’m sharing it anyway… it’s a wolf, gosh darn it!
We spent the rest of the day at Old Faithful. We walked around the geyser basin, did a little shopping, and, as tradition requires, shared some ice cream with Roxy.
On our way back to Canyon that night, it started to snow. It was so beautiful! We spotted a gorgeous bison down in the brush so I had to break out the Big Boy and get some photos of him in the snow. We also spotted a very regal elk in the snow. Of course, I had to get photos!
The next morning, we headed into Hayden Valley early — we were there by 7am. The clouds hung in the trees as we waited for the wildlife to come out. We watched a bison and a grizzly bear walking in opposite directions.
After the animals were long gone, we went to The Grand Canyon of Yellowstone to see the waterfall and its roaring river.
Later that evening, we went back to Hayden Valley. Our spot was filled with people so we knew something good was happening! A grizzly named Valley Girl had come out to say hello. She was so close — but don’t worry, a ranger was there to make sure everyone stayed safe! She wandered through the grass and gave us some incredible viewing opportunities. The weather was atrocious, though. It was raining and hailing. I had the Big Boy on my camera but since it’s rented, I wanted to make sure I protected it at all costs. I put an extra jacket over it yet I was still getting pelted in the face as I tried to shoot. Thank goodness for my hubby, though — he thought to put the hood over my head. It worked out — I felt like an old-time photographer who needed darkness to see what she was shooting!
The next day, we were up early again because it was our last morning in Hayden Valley. It was cold and we weren’t seeing much but it was still fun! We had made friends with the Hayden Valley wolf watchers and one was kind enough to share some hot coffee with us (thanks, Pete!). You know, this is what I love about Yellowstone: people are so friendly. We’re all there to enjoy nature. The people we met were kind, generous, and happy to share their adventures.
We packed up and left Hayden about 9am; it was another travel day and we were headed up to Mammoth Hot Springs. We loaded the truck (Greg is a master truck-loader — it’s like Tetris with all the stuff we had!) and headed north. Our cabins weren’t quite ready by the time we got up there, so we found a little picnic spot by a beautiful river just across the Wyoming/Montana border. It was a great spot that we could let Roxy stretch her legs. We could see in all directions and it was a pretty secluded area. She chased sticks, got out some zoomies, and drank the nice, cold river water (her favorite). It was so beautiful there, I made everyone take pictures. Hah! Roxy was less than thrilled but she put up with me with minimal barking back. Greg even took some photos of me with Roxy, for which I am so grateful!
That evening, we drove out to Slough Creek and Lamar Valley. There wasn’t much going on but we did see a beautiful bison herd. One of my favorite photos from that night is a bison with a bird in the brush behind him.
Little did I know, the next morning would mark the best day of my life. We woke up at 5am to get out the door by 6am to get to Slough Creek by 7am. We saw some cars pulled to the side of the road so we stopped to see what they were looking at. We didn’t even need to ask, though, because as soon as we stepped outside, we heard it: a wild wolf howling to her pack. It was incredible to say the least. We could look up on the hillside and see her: 926F. She is the alpha female of the Lamar Canyon pack. Her family was across the road and she was trying to get back to them. She eventually crossed the road but then crossed back. We were so far away at this point, that we needed to go down the road closer to everyone else. There were no good parking spots so Greg drove past her, despite my screaming pleas for him to stop. I was upset that we had gone too far but Greg calmly told me, “just wait.” And sure enough, he was right (shh, don’t tell him that). We were the only people right where we were. I was the only person with a big lens — really, the only person at all — right where I was. 926F trotted down past all the other cars and right in front of me. She stopped and looked straight into my lens; straight into my soul. After what felt like hours — yet I know was a mere fraction of a second — she continued on her way. She paused once more before crossing the street, her eyes on me as she did so. My adrenaline was pumping and my whole body was shaking with excitement. Truth be told, I cried when I got back to the car. It was just the most amazing experience of my entire life. I really don’t know what could possibly top it.
926F joined back up with her pack and we watched her through our spotting scopes. Her pups were so happy to see her — they were licking her and jumping all over her upon her return. The whole pack, now gathered, trotted off to the east. We watched them go behind a hill and expected them to pop up… but what popped up instead was a herd of elk racing away from the wolves! They were on the hunt! Fortunately for the elk/unfortunately for the wolves, they escaped with their lives.
We watched the pack throughout the day and into the evening but nothing quite compared to our morning experience.
After that amazing morning, we had lunch on the tailgate in Slough Creek and later drove up toward Tower to take in some views. On our way, we saw families of big horn sheep wandering alongside the road. It was so much fun to see the little baby sheepies!
The next day, we watched a wolf pack on a bison kill (I’m glad I didn’t see them take it down). They were too far for photos but we watched them through the spotting scopes. They would tug and pull at the meat. As gross as it is, it was pretty incredible to see first-hand. The ravens and bald eagles were nearby, patiently — and some not-so-patiently — waiting for the wolves to finish.
Later, we spotted a little black bear not far from the road. He/she was eating berries and getting ready for winter! That evening we went out again and spotted a beautiful little coyote in the golden setting sun. I couldn’t get to my tripod without scaring the coyote so I decided to try to hand-hold the Big Boy lens. That’s not something I chose lightly — the lens is 17 inches long and weighs nearly 8.5 pounds. Miraculously, I made it work and I got some of my favorite images of the trip! We spent the rest of the evening at the Hellroaring lookout, watching wildlife on the hillside through our scopes and watching our final sunset over Yellowstone.
The following morning we got up to wolf watch but there wasn’t much happening. It was another travel day, so we went back to our cabins, packed up the truck, and headed on our way to Bozeman. We had lunch at our favorite spot, The Naked Noodle (their Gaucho is amazing), and did a little shopping in town. We checked into our house later that night and were amazed by how perfect it was. Atop a hill, at the end of a long, winding dirt road, we had unbelievable views. That night, I could see every star in the sky. Even though there were houses nearby, everyone was quiet. It was really absolutely perfect and I could have stayed there forever. The sunrises there were pretty amazing, too.
The next day, we took things easy in the morning and went to Montana Grizzly Encounter to see Brutus the Bear and his friends in the afternoon. It was so fun! It’s a small place but the people who run it are kind, caring individuals. They are knowledgeable about the bears and really, truly care for them. They talk to them like I talk to Roxy and they give them enrichment treats (the bears got frozen watermelons when we were there). The bears take turns in the big turnout that’s complete with rocks, a waterfall, a pool, grass, wooden bridges, and logs for them to play with. The bears are really well cared for and they all look happy and healthy! Montana Grizzly Encounter does not breed the bears; they were all rescued from bad captive situations. I feel good supporting a place like that!
After meeting Brutus and his friends, we met my friend, Christina, and her dog, Roxanne, at my favorite dog park in the whole wide world: Hedvig’s Trail. It’s 37 acres and completely fenced-in so the dogs can run off-leash without worry (not that Roxy would go anywhere). There are walking paths all throughout so the humans can get a little exercise, too!
After the dog park, we headed back to Christina’s gorgeous home for dinner — but not before she pulled over by a beautiful barn and said, “set up your camera for me, I need to take a family photo of you here!” I’m so grateful she did that for us; the photo is one of my very favorites of all time.
Christina and I met many years ago here in San Diego. She is also an artist and crazy animal lady. When she told me she was moving to Bozeman, I don’t think she expected my reaction to be of such excitement. I think most people probably said, “Where? Why?” but not me… “OMG, I can’t believe you’re moving to Bozeman! It’s the most beautiful place on earth! OMG! I’m coming to visit!”
But anyway, Christina’s boyfriend suggested some hikes for us for the following day. We chose one that led to a gorgeous waterfall. The hike itself wasn’t all that long but it was so beautiful, it took us a while to get up to the top. On the way back down, the sun was coming through the trees so beautifully and there was a perfect little spot that I just stopped and stared at. Greg, knowing me so well, asked, “you want a puppy right there, don’t you?” “Yes,” I replied, feeling bad that I was, yet again, forcing Roxy to have her photo taken. He placed her on a stump and, luckily, she was pretty happy to be out and about so she smiled for me.
On our way out, we saw a couple who was hiking with their cat! I didn’t get a picture but it was so awesome!
We grabbed some take-out salads in town for dinner that night but on our way back to the car, we walked by a little place that smelled like waffle cones. We couldn’t resist. We each got a big waffle cone, stuffed with delicious ice cream. It was amazing and a perfect end to our trip.
We left in the wee hours the following morning. We stopped at our favorite Kneaders for lunch and at our favorite Centro Woodfired Pizza in Cedar City, UT for dinner. We ended up making it all the way to Las Vegas that night, although I don’t think we’d go that far again. Cedar City would have been a good stopping point. We enjoyed lunch in Las Vegas at our favorite Mexican place, Mundo (I told you, we have all our favorite food spots). Mmm, it was so good! I should also note that all of these places had dog-friendly patios so Roxy could dine with us.
Finally, on our way out of Vegas, we had to stop at Bass Pro Shops (also dog friendly — hooray!). We picked up some warm clothes for winter, if winter ever arrives. Roxy got so much love from all the staff, it was really awesome to know that she was so welcome there.
We had such an incredible trip but it went by way too quickly. We are already talking about the next vacation… hubby wants Hawaii… I want Alaska… so who knows where we’ll end up! Yellowstone??? :)
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