After we left California behind, we turned our sights to heading back home. We had a few more stops left on our itinerary, but mostly our goal was to get back East asap. We knew we had to fit in Yellowstone National Park, though, so we headed for Wyoming. We drove miles and miles (and miles…) through Nevada on Route 80. There’s a whole lot of desert out there. It might as well have been that scene in Fievel Goes West. We did stop to see a natural hot spring, which was cool (see what I did there?). It’s like watching a pot of water boil, only it’s actually boiling, so it’s a bit more exciting (did I mention there’s a lot of desert out there? You gotta do what you gotta do to entertain yourself out there.)
The World Cup was going on, and we had to catch the US – Portugal game, we just didn’t know where we’d find a tv. As luck would have it, we were driving through the little town of Carlin, NV (Population: 2,161), and they happened to have a bar! It was called the Peacock Lounge, and we convinced them to turn the game on. The hostess lead us to our own tv at the back of the bar, and we had the game to ourselves! A couple of the regulars wandered over to check out what was going on and cheer on the USA in the process – it was great to bond over a common desire to see the US do well. Just after the US scored the leading goal, 3 other travelers about our age came flying into the bar. They were listening to the game in the car but just had to catch the live action. We were all super jazzed about the US being in the lead, especially against such a world power in soccer. We bonded about our active lifestyles – they had just run a crazy endurance Tough-mudder style relay race in California and were headed to Yellowstone, too. Things were going great on so many levels, annnnd then Portugal scored in the 95th minute. [Commence super terrible awkward shock and silence as your team effectively loses and you’re sitting in a Peacock Lounge with fun new friends but no one feels like celebrating]. So, while that took the excitement out of our afternoon, we were glad to have met our fellow travelers and enjoyed the joy of the game. It also helped that 2 Sam Adams were only $5! Too bad it’s a 2,600 mile drive back to get some…
After the game, we continued our miles and miles of driving (did I mention there’s a lot of desert?), and headed up through Idaho to Wyoming. We stopped at a few casinos along the way for their Starbucks (who’d a thunk there’d be a Starbucks in the middle of the desert?!) and their free wi-fi. Traveler tip: when you’re out in the middle of no-where with no 3G to view Google maps, stop at the next casino you see. They’ll have wi-fi! You can even use it in the parking lot, so you don’t have to go into the black hole of slot machines, smoke, and no natural light…
Back to driving: We had booked a nice, little, real-deal cabin on the Snake River in Idaho, just across the border from Wyoming, for the night through AirBnB, so we were cruising to make it on time. We were driving though the dark, in the wilderness, when our high beams caught the back legs of… a moose! Lucky for us, it had already crossed the road and was meandering back into the woods. We just looked at each other with wide eyes. Incredible and massive animal.
Our cabin was tucked away in the woods, yet it was right on the river. When we woke up the next morning, we were greeted with a deer in the front yard – yay for more wildlife! This city girl is awed by everything that’s out there.
Our next stop was Grand Teton National Park (GTNP), since it was closer to where we were than Yellowstone. On a map, everything looks like it’s right next to each other, but that actually translates to hours of driving and therefore more desert and now woods. The West is so huge! We had limited time, so we had to make a decision between the Grand Tetons and Yellowstone: awe-inspiring mountains as a backdrop with camping on a lake, or bison and tipi camping? Sadly, the tipi camping didn’t have any vacancies for that night, so we decided we’d rather camp on the lake in Grand Teton National Park and do some “hiking” (read: running; running so that every hiker around you looks at you sideways like you should know that you’re the only two people within 100 miles running FOR A REASON) rather than drive another 2 hours to see more tourists and some bison. Looks like we’ll just have to go back to Yellowstone one day! To get to GTNP, you drive through Jackson, WY, which is a popular winter destination for skiing. It was a really pretty small town, with a nice section of main street shops and restaurants. Before we headed into the park, I made sure we stopped to get some bear spray (no, you don’t spray yourself with it like bug spray, Mr. Smith!). This city girl didn’t want to be unprepared if I met a bear in the woods!
We were both in awe of the mountains as the backdrop as soon as we saw them.
We took tons of photos and checked out the visitors’ center where we (when I say ‘we’ I really mean me, but L. Smith is a good sport and waits until I’ve got my fill of nerdy history) read all about the history of the park and exploration. I always thought it would have been awesome to be a pioneer, minus all the starvation and illness. We set up our campsite right on Jackson Lake. It was beautiful out there. We brought some snacks down to the lake and enjoyed the views on the water, with the mountain backdrop. I just couldn’t get over the fact that these mountains are your daily view when you live out there. Absolutely gorgeous.
We had dinner and drinks at the mountain lodge – Signal Mountain Lodge. The food was great, large portions and twists on usual bar food (bison burgers and elk sliders), great drinks (the frozen blackberry margarita was amazing – fresh blackberries!), and the views from the deck were phenomenal, as the lodge is right on Jackson Lake, with the mountains behind it. We ordered a plate of nachos, and those were the size of a mountain; goes along with the theme, I guess. We devoured them, but then I had little room for real food, so my elk sliders were inhaled by L.Smith. He ordered a bison burger, which was really good. The flavors were much bolder than a typical beef burger, very strong but not overwhelming, just a more concentrated taste.
We also grabbed a sunset drink at the Deadman’s Bar and got to know the bar staff, who apparently spend all summer working and hiking at the park, and then spend all winter working at ski resorts. Sounds like a fun life.
The next day, we went for a run-hike to the top of Signal Mountain, elevation: 7,725 feet. That’s a baby compared to the Tetons, which all rise to 12,000+ feet. We thought it was a pretty easy hike, since it’s a very gradual elevation change of only about 800 feet (we started at around 6,900 feet), and thus there’s not much climbing. I was hootin’ and hollerin’ the whole time, since it’s bear country, and they advise you to make lots of noise to make your presence known to the bears. When we were chatting with a couple at the campsite later, they asked us if we knew/heard the animal that was making those weird hooting noises. Probably me! haha At least I scared off the bears! Besides being ready for bears, another thing to be prepared for if you ever make it to Grand Teton National Park, is all the mosquitos. They were everywhere on this hike, even at the top of the mountain. As soon as you stopped moving, they descended upon you like vultures or something. It was like a cartoon movie, where the cloud of insects forms a shape in the sky and dive bombs you. Not fun. BUT, the view at the top was fantastic. Still worth it by far.
We had a hard time leaving Grand Teton National Park. The beauty of the natural landscape there was incredible, and neither of us could get over how magnificent it all was. Lucky for us, the rest of the drive down to Denver, our next destination, was just as stunning, with wide streams that coursed along the road, more mountain backdrops, and beautiful valleys filled with wildflowers. Stay tuned! 🙂