Yellowstone Road Trip 2018, or How We Spent Our Summer Vacation

Guest Post by Michelle Walch

Photo of Michelle Walch, John Maddin, & Bahiyyih Walch-Maddin at Yellowstone
Walch-Maddins at the Yellowstone NP West Entrance, August 2018.

We had been planning our trip to Yellowstone for sometime. Finally the stars had aligned: we have the car, the paid time off save up, and a book to promote! It could not get any better could it? I had AAA do a TripTik for me to help with the adventure. One note about this: I should have been more clear with AAA about my desire to avoid mountain passes with high elevations. Turned out our car performed just fine. We ended up doing a bit more backtracking that could have been avoided as well as saving unnecessary miles. Next time I’ll be more efficient.

Our children’s book Letters of the West was published in 2014. We had long dreamed of getting the book into a gift shop at Old Faithful. Since Letters of the West has that kind of rustic, textured look to it and the subject matter of nature in the North American West, we knew it would be a good fit.

Photo of Grand Tetons and Lake Jenny
Grand Tetons in the background, Lake Jenny in the foreground, August 2018.

In 1985 I visited Old Faithful with my parents and brother. We stayed at the Old Faithful Inn when it was about $35 a night (seriously). Traveling around and sleeping in on (in?) a super-volcano is truly awe-inspiring. It is otherworldly. Yellowstone was once called Hell’s Half Acre. Steam ominously rises in alternately obvious and unsuspecting places. Each geyser is different. Old Faithful is elegant as ever, though it no longer erupts once an hour – more like once every hour and a half now. Other noteworthy geysers include the Grand and Castle Geysers, each with it’s own personality.

Photo of Grand Prisim Geyser Spring, August 2018
Grand Prisim Geyser Spring, August 2018

We did plenty of driving and walking in the heat. That was the most difficult part on the first couple of days: global warming was especially evident on this trip. It was 104 degrees F when we were at Old Faithful. I got heat exhaustion at the end of the day (2nd time in summer 2018). Totally worth it.

Hanging out at the Old Faithful Inn is still one of my top favorite things. Old Faithful Inn is a perfect example of National Park Service rustic or Parkitecture. I love the log cabin look taken to the nth degree. I could hang out in the Inn for days and never tire of the park ethos. The Frank Lloyd Wright-looking desks are still there, I expect the same ones I sat at when I was there in 1985.

In between pushing the book, we thoroughly enjoyed the natural splendor of Yellowstone, the Grand Tetons, and Craters of the Moon. Yellowstone is an artists’ paradise. Including but not limited to Artist Paint Pots geysers. The layers and textures of the landscapes is truly breathtaking. One could bask for months on end and find some new color or pattern in the environs. When we drove from West Yellowstone Entrance and into the Park there was a sign that told us when we left Montana and entered Wyoming. John would ask our daughter Bahiyyih: “See how the sky is smaller here? We are no longer in Big Sky Country.” More bad dad jokes. (Hey, you can’t have a family trip without bad jokes from Dad! John)

Photo of Grand Tetons, Wyoming
Grand Tetons, Wyoming

 

Photo of Grand Canyon of Yellowstone NP
Grand Canyon of Yellowstone NP, August 2018

It was good to to meet other travelers as well. It had been awhile since we had been on a journey where we could talk with a variety of people and hear of their travel experiences, hear their impressions and get recommendations. We stayed at a couple of Kampgrounds of America (KOA) on this trip. I wanted to glamp. Sure it’s cheesy and not exactly cheap (that is, if we had stayed in a real campground it would have been about $40 per night). But I was looking for something that was sort of camping but with appropriate level of amenities – I need a shower, darn it. We had meaningful conversations with tour guides who were shuttling around a family of Japanese tourists. Why on earth would tourists from Japan want to stay at a KOA?, we asked. Why not go for a more “real” camping experience or stay in a luxury hotel? It was explained to us that traveling in an RV and staying at KOA, its kawaii-aesthetic (see what I did there) and occasional theme-park experience schtick is precisely what some travelers from outside they U.S. are looking for. Cutesy cabins and put put golf are perfect for a family looking for that quintessential American experience.

We really did have great experience staying at the KOAs in Jackson, Wyoming on the Snake River, Yellowstone West Entrance in Montana, and at Arco, Idaho while visiting the Craters of the Moon. So far, the Jackson, Wyoming and Arco, Idaho KAO campgrounds purchased 10 copies of Letters of the West. Both campgrounds were really happy with the book. The Arco, Idaho campground put up a really nice display and we did an impromptu authors’ visit. The owners were all very nice and made a pleasant experience.

If there was one complaint we had, it was that we never got to see any buffalo or bears in the Park, except for one small bison herd waaaaaayyyyyy off in the distance, just north of the Grand Tetons. Apparently we came at the wrong time of year to see the bison in the northern part of the Park. We did see some elk, and a lone wolf, and a couple of moose, so some of the Major Wildlife checkmarks were made, but no bison/buffalo or bear. So…. On our way out of Yellowstone, coming down the highway from West Yellowstone, we decided to bite the tourist cheese and go to Bear World, the wildlife park outside of Rexburg, ID on Hwy 20. And boy did we get our bear and bison thang taken care of; there were more bears in that park than you could shake a barrel of honey at, and as for the bison, it’s a very humbling moment when one of these majestic creatures ambles on to the car path and you realize it is MUCH bigger than the station wagon you’re driving. Bahiyyih was going nuts.

Photo of Bison at Bear World
If’n you don’t see Bison in Yellowstone NP, plunk down a bit of your hard earned at Bear World in Idaho. AAA discount!

 

Photo of Bears at Bear World
Bear World Bears, August 2018

This trip was the first two week trip John and I had been on in ten years. It was our daughter’s first two week trip. I’m so glad we did this, but it was hot. Really hot. Smoke from the wildfires was especially evident in the Pendleton, Oregon area. A gloomy testament to global warming. The heat and long days spent driving was really difficult for her. But seeing animals and geothermal activity did make up for it.

Yellowstone Recap List:

1. Miles traveled: 2000+++

2. Highest elevation: 8500 feet, going through the Grand Tetons into Jackson, Wyoming.

3. T-shirt 1: “Isn’t Texas cute?” Picture of Texas in a picture of Alaska.

4. T-shirt 2: “I don’t need Google. My wife knows everything.”

5. Number of geysers seen: lost count.

6. Highest temperature: 104 degrees Fahrenheit, August 12, 2018, Old Faithful Village .

Have you been to Yellowstone National Park?  What was your favorite part?  Write your answers in the comments!

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Michelle Walch is a healthcare and wellness blogger.  She lives with John and their daughter Bahiyyih in rural Oregon.

(Note:  This article was completed just before the Federal Shutdown of December 2018.  This article does not go into really any detail about the Yellowstone Supervolcano, mabye because secretly we hope that engineers will harness the thermal hydraulics thereby constructively unleashing all that energy.  One can dream!)

 

 

 

 

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You’ve landed at the site of illustrator John Maddin. Both private and commissioned work is presented here, as well as some information about the wonderful medium of Scratchboard. In the future I hope to have some how-to videos on this art form. In the meantime, feel free to wander.