Tuesday, September 26, 2023

2020 pandemic road trip to from Wisconsin to Montana: Chapter 6

Photos and videos by Retiring Guy

Exploring Yellowstone National Park 

Saturday, September 26, 2020  

It was shortly after we concluded our visit to Yellowstone National Park that I myself with less time to keep a travel journal, i.e., the notes I used for most of the previous letter that covers most of the first three days of our trip. Actually, I spent a considerably amount of time in Deer Lodge and Great Falls composing two Facebook posts, the text for which I plan to use and expand upon here. 

Right now, though, I’d like to conclude the Yellowstone observations of our trip, more than a week after the fact. 

It wasn’t until we approached Old Faithful that I felt a sense of familiarity with the park. In June of 1957, a few weeks before we moved to Warren, Dad took Larry and me to Yellowstone for an overnight visit. I can’t remember exactly where we stayed but it might have been at a lodge in the vicinity of Old Faithful. My clearest memory, increasingly dulled with age, is the moment when Dad dashed away from us in an attempt to find the best frame for an open shot of the big show, the erupting geyser. Perhaps he told us to stay put, but I must have panicked, grabbed your hand and pulled you along in an effort to keep him in view. 

I remember the area encompassing Old Faithful and its lesser geysers being more free-range. The current arrangement keeps visitors on an extensive network of boardwalks that provide access to this open area of the park. People view the eruption of Old Faithful from a safe distance, benches provided more than 100 feet away. (Apparently, it’s okay to side on the inside edge of the boardwalk.) Even in the off-season, there’s not nearly enough seating for everyone. During our visit, people clustered together, not observing social distancing guidelines. Most everyone around us, though, wore masks. 

The other stop I remember from the 1957, thanks to Dad’s slides, is the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone, a 24-mile-long gorge, as deep as 1200 feet, through which the Yellowstone River runs. At the Lower Falls, pictured here, the river plunges 300 feet into the canyon. We viewed the falls from afar and while standing just above the point where they cascade over a cliff. The latter observation point required walking down a narrow, snaking path with no guardrails or fencing until you get to the bottom, a nerve-wracking hike for JoAnna. 


To her credit, she didn’t let her fear of heights (of the looking down as opposed to looking variety) get the best of her. Quite a few people found the return trek up the hill quite taxing. The trail offers frequent points along the path to sit and rest. 

JoAnna reported her Apple watch registered a heart rate of 220. We got quite the workout. An additional challenge is thinner air due to the elevation. Most of the major sites at Yellowstone are 6,000 to 8,000 feet above sea level. 

The final stop of our visit took place at Mammoth Hot Springs, a series of steaming hydrothermal features accessible via a network of boardwalks. It would be a chillingly atmospheric setting for a Halloween party. 

I couldn’t help but repeat one particular observation to JoAnna throughout our 7-hour Yellowstone visit. 

“Just imagine what this would be like if this was summer.” 

‘Pre-Covid’ being understood. 

From what I’ve heard and read, summertime traffic sometimes rivals the gridlock of New York’s Times Square and The Loop in Chicago. We encountered nothing of the sort. In fact, from the east entrance to Yellowstone Lake, it often felt as though we had the park to ourselves. The only time we experienced a slowdown was when we exited the park via the entrance. Up until this time, the weather had been cool, overcast, and sometime drizzly, but during our final minutes in the park, we were bathed in sunshine. Fortunately, we enjoyed great weather — lots of sunshine and, especially in Great Falls, a surprising lack of hazy skies, considering the fires raging farther to the west — during most of our trip.

Read about the entire trip

And check out "Covid Chronicles" here.

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