Friday, November 22, 2013

Jen's Epic Road Trip: Grand Tetons, Yellowstone, and Bozeman, MT

So close to the end, folks! After this recap post I'll just have Glacier National Park left. In a way, I'm kind of bummed. This trip was so incredible and I'm sad that I'm nearly done recapping!

After leaving Utah, Sourabh, Mason and I continued our trek northward. We decided to take a slight detour so that we could drive through Grand Teton National Park and spend the afternoon in Yellowstone National Park. 

I'd been to both the Tetons and Yellowstone before, but it had been 9 years so I'd forgotten just how gorgeous the area is, stretching between Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming. As we drove along, Sourabh asked me how they decided which areas were national parks and which weren't. Good question -- when it's all so gorgeous, how do they decide??

As soon as we left Jackson, Wyoming, we started driving alongside the Tetons. It's a fairly short mountain range but it's stunning because it seems to just rise out of the flat prairie. Since the altitude is so high (7,000 ft) you don't realize that the peaks actually reach up 13,000 ft from sea level! Those are the kinds of heights this Washington-bred girl can appreciate.

Thank you, fence, for providing a conveniently photogenic foreground to my photo. It was early September, but fall colors had already hit the Tetons due to the altitude.

Finally, around 3 PM, we made it to Yellowstone!

Yellowstone covers approximately 3,500 square miles. It's big. It's not as mesmerizing as the peaks of the Tetons or the depths of the Grand Canyon. Instead, it's incredible to think of 3,500 square miles of wilderness.

Oh yeah, you're also up pretty high in the park, ranging from 7,000 to 9,000 ft elevation in different parts.

In case you didn't know (or rather, in case you aren't a geography dork like me), the Continental Divide is a hydrological divide. To the west, all water eventually drains into the Pacific Ocean. To the east, all water eventually drains into the Atlantic Ocean (or, far north in Canada, into the Arctic Ocean). I think it's pretty cool.

Yellowstone is also incredible because it rests on a giant caldera, AKA a volcano. Yes, Yellowstone is basically a supervolcano that, if it ever erupted, would probably decimate most of the United States. NBD.

BUT it means there's a lot of extremely cool geological stuff happening in the Park. There are thousands of tiny earthquakes every year because of all the seismic activity below the surface. There are geysers and multi-colored springs and mudpots (do not step into any of them or you will literally be boiled to death).

Steam rises from all sorts of ponds and lakes around the park due to the heat coming from geothermal pockets.

We also couldn't walk away from the parking areas to check out the multi-colored springs and mudpots since you can't take your dog on the paths and we had Mason with us (and we weren't going to leave him in the car). I understand why dogs aren't allowed -- the dogs could run into the springs and be hurt or knock someone off the path if they got rowdy --  but it's definitely a bummer for those traveling with dogs and something to know before you go.

We got to Bozeman, MT, around 8 PM, but luckily there were still some restaurants open. After several days eating at places like Subway and Starbucks -- if we were lucky -- we were both in dire need of a good meal. We found a tapas place on Yelp and decided that sounded perfect.

And it was! We both really enjoyed our meal at Over the Tapas in downtown Bozeman. Although we didn't drink, it looked like they had a terrific wine and beer menu as well. I'd definitely recommend this place to Bozeman visitors. I can't remember what we had since I was slightly delirious after roughly 500 miles of driving in a day, but it was all delicious.

The following morning, we left Mason in our hotel room with lots of toys and treats and drove into Yellowstone for a hike. Since he'd been fine while we were gone for an hour the night before, we assumed he'd be okay for the day. (Spoiler: he was. Give Mason a bone and some peanut butter and he's happy for hours.)

It was roughly 90 minutes to the park from Bozeman (we stayed there because it was much cheaper than hotels right next to the park), so we chose a hike close to the north entrance: Bunsen Peak.

The hike was an out-and-back up then down Bunsen Peak, with an elevation gain of 1,278 ft in 2 miles. Along the way, you got incredible views of the Gallatin Mountains to the west.

Once we reached the peak, Yellowstone spread out around us. Seeing the park from this vantage point really brought home just how wild the park was and how far that wilderness stretched.

With the wilderness in mind, I made sure Sourabh and I kept up conversation for the whole trek, no matter how winded we got in the last, steepest ascent to reach the peak. Bears are a real and present danger in Yellowstone, and the best way to avoid them is to make noise since few bears will try to go after you. Rather, if they hear noise, they'll typically run away. Many hikers wear bells, but since we didn't have any, we had to use our voices to make sure wildlife knew we were there.

The weather changes pretty quickly in Yellowstone, and at this height (roughly 8,900 ft) we could see the clouds moving across the sky at an incredibly fast pace. No wonder days go from sunny to stormy so quickly!

After climbing a mountain at a high elevation, we'd worked up an appetite. We headed back to our hotel to check in on Mason and give him a short walk before heading to dinner.

Bozeman's restaurant scene officially rocks. We were both surprised that we had two great meals here, but I guess since it's a university town, there's a large enough population that demands good food! We ate at Blackbird Kitchen, where I had a fantastic kale caesar salad and Sourabh had a great lamb and eggplant dish. We also split a mushroom pizza baked in their wood fire oven.

I also grabbed breakfast the next morning at the Bozeman Food Co-Op, where I had a terrific breakfast sandwich. Egg and cheese on a biscuit -- SO GOOD. They also had a great selection of snacks for hiking, a tasty looking salad bar, and a great juice and espresso bar (I enjoyed a green juice and coconut milk latte).


  1. Like all your road trip posts, absolutely gorgeous pictures. Too bad Mason couldn't join you for the Yellowstone hike. One of these days, I'll will make it out west!

  2. I've always wanted to go to yellowstone! I'm so jealous!