It was the morning of June 24th. Jeremy and I woke up in our hotel room at The Pollard in Red Lodge, Montana. My uneaten birthday cake was on the dresser in the room, my recently finished novel lay on the end table next to the chair at the end of the room. Jeremy had booked us the king suite on the third floor with the jacuzzi tub, and got a special deal where he also had purchased dinner, which we had the night before, and breakfast.
He grabbed our breakfast voucher and we headed down to the main floor to the dining room. Our waitress was handling the breakfast crowd by herself, but she was such a hard worker and did a wonderful job. We had our coffee and our food - Jeremy had Eggs Benedict, and I had pancakes. We headed back up to our room, packed our belongings, and made our way back to the counter to check out. Everyone on the staff at The Pollard was extremely pleasant, and I would definitely stay there again if we found ourselves back in Red Lodge.
The front desk clerk asked us what our plans were for that day, and after we told her we were heading into Yellowstone, she made a remark on how "interesting" the drive was into the park from Red Lodge. The previous night at dinner a young man had mentioned that the drive was a "trip in and of itself". Jeremy and I thought they just meant the drive was pretty at the time... and it was! It was also truly a journey driving up steep roads that switch-backed, a true mountain road trip.
The road you drive on to get to Yellowstone from Red Lodge is called Beartooth Loop. It was a thrilling drive, especially for me with my anxiety in driving near steep mountain slopes and driving downhill towards turns. I was once in a driving accident where the axel broke while I was driving down a bluff in Minnesota, and I haven't been the same since then when it comes to driving downhill.
Nonetheless, Jeremy and I have agreed that it was the best way to enter the park. It was such a gorgeous drive, offering magnificent views. During our time in Yellowstone we explored three entrances/exits into/from Yellowstone, and this one was, by far, the most interesting.
We had stopped several times on our way through Beartooth Loop. Most of the stops were to get out and admire the view at our high elevation, other times were to let the motorcyclists and braver drivers go by (can you tell that I was driving?). We were almost to the other side of the loop, to start going down the mountainside, when we saw this lake with the mountain backdrop. I, of course, had to get a photograph of Jeremy with the sign: Gardner Lake in Shoshone National Forest.
He also looked quite comfortable peering out over the lake.
Jeremy started noticing small creatures off to the side as I was focused on photographing the lake. We didn't know what they were, but we determined they were related to groundhogs.
The entire time we were sitting there admiring the lake, no one else stopped. Everyone else drove by, missing this beautiful sight. Everyone, except this couple from Michigan. The lady stayed near the truck and was admiring the view and the animals, but the gentleman came forward and we talked a bit about Yellowstone. He told me that the animal we were seeing were marmots. They are so cute!
Not only was the view beautiful, but the natural terrain of the mountain we were standing on was gorgeous and full of these tiny wildflowers. I think I would like to picnic amongst wildflowers one day.
We started making our way down the mountain towards Yellowstone. The valleys were vast, and as we made our way down it was clear that Gardner Lake was not the only lake in the nearby vicinity. We even came across a waterfall, which was barely visible between trees along the side of the highway. Luckily there was a pull-out right near the waterfall with a footpath leading back to it. After doing some research, we believe it might have been Crazy Creek Falls.
The two photographs above are of Soda Butte Geyser, not that far from the Northeast Entrance into Yellowstone. When we arrived, there was a man climbing all over the geyser, despite signs saying that it was dangerous to do so.
We ignored the man and his disrespect for nature and went around to the back side of the geyser, when we found ourselves a bit too close to a pair of bison. We slowly backed away, while I took photographs, of course. I loved how these birds were just hanging out on top of the bison on his yet un-shedded coat.
The views on the Northeast side of the park were spectacular.
There were many herds of bison on the Northeast side of the park that day, so it definitely was the correct place to be that morning. We even got to see bison calves. You can see this one bellowing for its mama in the second image.
As we got closer and closer to Mammoth Hot Springs, we came upon a group of cars all stopped on the side of the road. We are no dummies, so we figured there was an animal nearby. Sure enough, there was a black bear just hanging out in the meadow heading towards the campground. He was probably hungry.
We stopped in Mammoth Hot Springs for lunch. We had to eat outside, of course, due to COVID restrictions. We sat at a picnic table, enjoyed our food, and headed into the gift shop where we found gifts for Jeremy's family who was watching our dogs and rabbits while we were away.
As we headed out of the park, we saw an elk herd, parked in a nearby parking lot, and walked to a safe distance and admired the beautiful animals. They were all resting near the houses where the park rangers reside. There were even elk fawn! It was a wonderful experience. There were even some younger bucks, showing off their smaller antlers covered in velvet.
The bison pictured below is my number one favorite animal that we saw on this trip. He was laying there, munching on grass, with his eyes closed. Definitely felt this bison on a spiritual level.
Of course, I loved the elk down below too. How can you not love those majestic creatures??
Jeremy and I made our way over to Yellowstone Canyon where the Yellowstone waterfall is. Here, you can clearly see why the park got its name. Yellow rock lines the canyon above Yellowstone River. It was a steep switchback trail, but it was full of beautiful scenery. We stopped at this tiny footbridge that had a waterfall behind it. Jeremy is pictured below on the bridge. Yellowstone Upper Falls is pictured below as well, surrounded by the yellow stone that provided the namesake.
The Norris Geyser Basin is quite expansive, as you can see from the images below. We walked around the first loop.
The last thing we did on our first day in Yellowstone National Park was to go see Gibbon Falls. This raven was perched up in a tree greeting people walking to the viewpoint. Isn't that polite?
After leaving the park on June 24th, we headed out of the West gate and drove towards Island Park, Idaho where our hotel was waiting. We stopped at a small gas station that was also a local store and bar. Such a landmark for a small town, it was great.
We dined that evening in a bar and restaurant called Connie's. The service and the food was excellent, and I definitely recommend for anyone traveling to Island Park.
After dinner, we were very much ready to go to our hotel and collapse for the evening. We headed out to our hotel, Springhill Suites by Marriott. This hotel chain is one we have stayed at before and enjoyed immensely. We greatly appreciate the taste in decor and the rooms. However, this hotel was not set up properly to take in the amount of guests that had rooms reserved there. Their parking lot could only hold a portion of the vehicles of guests staying in the hotel, and we had to park on this weird side street behind the building itself.
We went to bed, and when we awoke the next morning, we found that our vehicle was blocked in by some guy that blocked the entire back street behind the hotel. This pushed our departure time back quite a bit as we waited for the hotel to try and find the owners of the truck, which ended up being two young men who were quite rude about the entire situation.
Jeremy grabbed our breakfasts, which were in to-go bags provided by the hotel. I was definitely not impressed with this either. They had run and gotten gas station breakfast sandwiches, oranges with brown marks on them, and little cartons of milk. The sandwiches were cold, and it was just an overall bad experience.
The truck was eventually moved, and we headed back towards Yellowstone, me fuming in the front seat with Jeremy agreeing with me as I ranted about the rude men and their truck.
Before we headed into the park, we stopped in the town located right outside the West Entrance, fittingly named "West Yellowstone" to do some more shopping. We ended up buying very few things in the town, as the stores were overtly crowded, and we wanted to beat the line into the park.
After entering through the West side of the park, we headed South, towards Old Faithful.
The first Geyser Basin we went to was the Lower Geyser Basin. It was amazing how far away we were when we first started seeing the steam rise up over the horizon.
We went to the Midway Geyser Basin next, and this is where some of the more colorful hot springs and geysers are. You have to cross a bridge to get over to it, and you can see the hot, steamy water running off into the river from the geysers and springs. The Firehole River is marked as unsafe in this area due to the run offs.
Old Faithful is such a popular attraction that there's a whole exit system for traffic going and seeing the landmark. We happened to time it all out perfectly, we truly do have good luck, because when we arrived at Old Faithful, there was still ten minutes before it's next estimated eruption. We were able to get a front row bench!
While we were waiting for Old Faithful to blow, we watched the birds flitter about, and even saw a Bison get a bit uncomfortably close to a group of spectators quite a ways down.
Old Faithful does steam quite a bit before it goes, and you can definitely tell when the time is getting close as the steam increases immensely.
We really only had one more plan after Old Faithful before leaving Yellowstone. We wanted to go drive around Yellowstone Lake. It's off on the East side of the park, so it was a bit of a drive to get there, especially with the heavy rain we experienced, but when we got there it was completely worth it. The lake is beautiful. If Jeremy and I lived close to Yellowstone, I could see us just going to the lake and enjoying a day on the water. It's truly a magnificent scene.
After all of the beauty we were able to witness, we are so thankful to have the National Parks to protect nature and the magnificence of Mother Earth.
TLDR; Photographer and fiance go to Yellowstone National Park, enjoy a lot of adventures, and share photographs.
Jeremy and I were convinced that the puffer above was broken. All it did was swim into the glass of the tank. Poor thing. She wants out!
By the time we made it over to the penguins, I think they were all tuckered out. Most of them were napping, or just standing there and staring off into space. Do penguins have third eyelids that allow them to sleep with their eyes open? I'm going to Google this....
Yes, yes they do. So they were probably just sleeping standing up.
There were two penguins doing... um... naughty activities, but I decided to not share the penguins' intimate moment. Ha! My sister, Jeremy, and I had a good laugh about it though.
I loved the Sandy Shore & Aviary exhibit, because I love looking at all of the different birds. The bird pictured below is a phalarope.
One of the other birds featured was the western snowy plover, which reminded me of the adorable birds in the Disney Short, "piper".PS, the bird in the Disney Short is a sandpiper.
I love the patterns in the sand left behind by the waves, too. They resemble trees , or veins, so well, and it was a reminder of how connected we all are to nature.
After our time in Capitola, we drove out to Santa Cruz for dinner and ate at a restaurant on the pier. We ate at a place called Stagnaro Bros.
By the time we made it to Santa Cruz, it was dark outside, so we didn't get to see much of it. Again - something for next time!
We really enjoyed our time going to the various towns on the West Coast, and we really can't wait to explore more next time we are in California.
Maybe Jeremy will win us another free flight voucher at the next Furry Scurry which takes place on May 2nd! And yes, we are already registered!
After dinner, we did drive out to an ice cream place, so I was pretty happy with how the night ended! Thank you, family, for showing us the West Coast, and we can't wait to be back! Love you all.
We woke up early the next morning after staying at Yosemite View Lodge the previous night. We had no idea how spectacular the view was from the lodge until the morning, as it was dark when we checked in at 11pm the night before. We were greeted by the sunrise and cliff faces, and it couldn't have been a better start to the day.
You feel like you are already in the park before you technically are.
It was definitely worth it to make it down to the river. It was beautiful seeing the river, which was low, trinkle its way around the boulders and rocks.
We even found a big rock to climb up on, for a better view, and of course, for poses.
Jeremy and I stood at the base of Yosemite Lower Falls with my mom and Katy. Then, thinking Jeremy was following me, I set off unto the woods to the left of the viewpoint to try to get a different angle of the waterfall. I had barely walked into the woods and turned around when I noticed he was not following me, and he was no longer within my view. He had gone somewhere else. I decided to continue hiking my way up towards the base of the fall. Eventually I made my way back out towards the open rocks, and who do I see on the other side? My bearded man.
We got to the park in the early afternoon, so the sun was quite fierce. We got to the park entrance gate, and my parents purchased the America the Beautiful pass as Jeremy's and my Christmas present. The pass allows you to have free admission to any National Park for one year.
If you plan on visiting more than one National Park within a year, I highly recommend getting the America the Beautiful pass. It only costs $80.00 which is usually about the same or cheaper than two admission fees into different parks. For example, the admission fee into Sequoia National Park costs $35 for a vehicle, and is the same for Yosemite National Park. We were just on vacation, and happened to go to two national parks. For $10 more, the annual pass is well worth it.
Jeremy and I live relatively close to Rocky Mountain National Park where I plan on adventuring a few times this year. Let's say I go three times over the course of the next year. A vehicle day pass at RMNP is $25, which means that would be $75 spent in admission fees alone. Jeremy and I are also going to Yellowstone for my birthday in June. Yellowstone's admission fee is $25.
So, basically, instead of spending $170 this year on national park passes, the America the Beautiful pass is just $80. Get one! It's worth it if you plan on visiting the parks.
Okay, I'm done trying to sell you on that point :P I just love my pass!
We found a dirt path off to the side that took us to the top of the Tunnel Rock. We were able to climb up on top of it. The rock is actually quite steep, and there are signs warning you of climbing up on top of Tunnel Rock, so we didn't climb too far up.
Katy was the bravest of the three of us, perching up on the hump of the rock. Jeremy and I stayed by the slab on the side, which made for a perfect foot rest.
Sequoia National Park is a beautiful drive, even before you get to the famous Sequoia trees. I highly recommend soaking in the view. Plus, a lot of people don't know that Sequoia National Park is also home to the tallest mountain in North America - Mount Whitney! That is on the completely opposite side of the park from the trees, so we did not go and visit the mountain. Maybe next time! PS - the mountain in the above photo is NOT of Mount Whitney. I believe it is Mount Eisen - I could be wrong! If anyone knows what the snow-capped mountain is in this image, please feel free to comment!
The rock formation in the foreground is known as "Castle Rocks"... naturally.
The tree above with the sun shining next to it and the one on the left directly above this sentence are both images of General Grant.
In the Grant Grove loop, there is this fallen tree called the Fallen Monarch. The tree was hollowed out by a fire more than 300 years ago before toppling over. The fallen tree served as shelter to cattlemen who later built a cabin very close by, a saloon, and a horse stable! Now it is a tourist attraction that one can walk through. The right image above shows Jeremy standing in front of one end of the Fallen Monarch.
When the family, Jeremy, and I were there, it was beginning to get dark, so it was very black inside the tree. I don't believe I would have noticed this heart shape hole on the top curvature of the fallen tree if it wasn't for the setting sun shining through it.
The following image after shows the other end of the Fallen Monarch.
The two trees above are more of the Giant Sequoias, and the one below is another image of General Grant. You can tell by the one significant branch that reaches out towards the sun in the image below.
The one thing my mom really wanted to tackle on this day trip to San Francisco was to see Ghirardelli. Since it was not tourist season, we were actually able to park in the parking garage underneath Ghirardelli Square, which is only a few blocks away from the wharf!
Doesn't my mama look so pretty?
We went into Ghirardelli, of course. It was still pretty early in the day, so we didn't get anything, but we all agreed we would stop by again before getting in the car to go home... after all we were parked right there anyway!
We wandered onto Hyde St. Pier, which houses a few historical ships and acts as a museum of sorts on your way out to the ticket booth. You can pay to actually tour the boats, but we decided that seeing them from the pier was good enough.
PS - I don't think that seagull paid the admission fee ;)
The boat below is called C.A. Thayer, and I pulled the following from Google:
C.A. Thayer is a schooner built in 1895 near Eureka, California. The schooner is now preserved at the San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park. She is one of the last survivors of the sailing schooners in the West coast lumber trade to San Francisco from Washington, Oregon, and Northern California.
Here is the link to the National Park Service web page on the ship if you would like to read more: https://www.nps.gov/safr/learn/historyculture/c-a-thayer.htm
We continued our way down to Pier 39 (which was the end goal for our trip to the wharf). We stopped at these crab stations to check out the menus, but I have to say - everything is so overpriced! When Jeremy and I visited Oregon and Washington, we could get fresh seafood for much better prices. San Francisco really price gouges you if you want anything but clam chowder and bread. Tsk tsk!
At last, we made it to Pier 39. The pier where all of the touristy fun hoopla is. Stores, museums, the aquarium, rides... it's all there! They even have a carousel towards the end of the pier. However, if you're planning on visiting, don't stop there! Go beyond it to get a great view of the Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz, and sea lions!
There were only a few active ones. Apparently it was nap time for the sea lions, as many of them slept on the docks below. However, there were two that were very much active, doing somersaults around each other, giving each other kisses, some playful nips, and were just really entertaining to watch.
There are SO many things to do in San Francisco, that I have a feeling Jeremy and I could visit the city every time we visit my parents and sister in California and find something new to do every single time.
Jeremy already declared that next time we are in California that he wants to go to a Giants game. My mom added that we should go to Treasure Island too, so that's already two things to do in San Francisco for our next visit!
Looking forward to it!
Photographer, visual artist, mother to five fur-babies, and travel enthusiast.