Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Western Vacation 2015

I was born in Cheyenne, WY, but I didn't live there long. Mom and Dad have always said they would like to take me back there. Back around New Year's, we started cooking up a trip to go out west, and so it began...with the whole gang on board...me, Chad, Alex, Noah, Mom, Dad, Josh, and Stephanie.

Sat July 18 - Off We Go...Long Day Ahead!
Denver, Mount Rushmore, Keystone

Mom and Dad were at the house at 5 and we left for our 8:55 flight out of Nashville. We did not know that Noah got in the car with no shoes on until we arrived at The Parking Spot. He totally forgot his tennis shoes!!! He hates wearing flip flops.

Noah was a nervous wreck on the flight. He literally had the barf bag ready. He was so relieved when we landed. Alex, on the other hand, loved it!!

Josh and Stephanie barely made their flight to Denver. Their luggage did not make it. We went to a travel plaza and got some lunch at Baja Fresh while we waited for their luggage to arrive. We eventually found out that their luggage wasn't going to make it until later that night, so we decided to go on to Mount Rushmore with the understanding that Southwest would get it to Rapid City via United. We made it to Mount Rushmore at 10 pm...just in time to snap a few pics of the Presidents with the lights on. We checked into the Travelodge after that and were asleep in no time.

Sun July 19 - Let's Get The Luggage and Get it On!
Mount Rushmore, Devils Tower, Gillette, Sheridan

It was a beautiful Sunday morning in Keystone. We had breakfast at Peggy's Diner next to our hotel. Josh and Stephanie's luggage made it to Rapid City so they left to go pick it up while we went to do the Mount Rushmore Alpine Slide. When the kids and I got on the lift to go up, the guy told me it did not have lap bars. It had been so long since I had done a lift and I know some ski lifts don't have them so I went with it....he was incorrect. The kids were very uneasy going up like that and it made me very uncomfortable. Then, when I noticed the ones coming down I realized they did have them. Then I was pretty irritated at the guy and felt stupid myself!

Moving on, I thought the Alpine slide was so fun...but I went so fast that I almost ran into Noah! I had to break for him. They both went slow...scaredy cats!

 After Josh and Stephanie made it back with their luggage, they went with the kids to do the zip line.

After zip lining, we went to Mount Rushmore. It was fascinating to see the workmanship. We took pics and then got some ice cream before heading to Devil's Tower.

They nailed these shots...almost :-p

Josh had been waiting for the right moment to propose to Stephanie. He had been saying that he would just know when the moment was right. Well, we had parked at Devil's Tower and were getting ready to do the walk around it. I was in the middle of helping this elderly, adorable man get a pic of his family when Chad said it is was fixing to happen. I was supposed to take pictures! There were all these large boulders at the base of Devil's Tower. Stephanie starts climbing them like a mountain goat or something. Josh was like another one right behind her. I was thinking they are gonna get hurt or he is going to drop that ring!!!

He finally got her to stop and then he did it!!! She was saying yes before he had even asked the question. It was very sweet. The sweet older man that I had helped was standing there watching. He was so cute when he said "if I was an 18 year old again I might do it like that."

Josh was way more relaxed after that was over! We finished up at Devil's Tower, skipping the walk around it.

On the way out of Devil's Tower, we stopped at the prairie dog town to take pics of prairie dogs, of course. They were kind of cute. The kids enjoyed taking pictures of them.

We questioned that middle finger on this one :)

We left Devil's Tower and then headed towards Sheridan. We stopped in Gillete Wyoming for a celebratory dinner at The Prime Rib. Stephanie and Josh were both giddy with excitement. She couldn't stop staring at and flashing her ring. She was clearly on Cloud Nine! She had a much better day today!!

Mon July 20 - Magnificent Monday!
Cody, Yellowstone National Park, Old Faithful Geyser

I had my music on shuffle and I couldn't help think it appropriate that the song How Great Is Our God began playing as we entered the majesty of the Big Horn National Forest/Mountains! God's creation is simply awesome! As Noah said, "Wowzers!!" The pictures will have to tell the story, but they don't even do it justice. I was so excited to see what else would be in store.

There was a picturesque waterfall in the Shell River Canyon. We stopped there to stretch our legs and take a few pics.

We arrived in Cody around noon and grabbed a quick bite before heading into Yellowstone. I will never forget Noah waking Alex up with "wake up Honey Bell". Where in the world that came from I have no idea. It was one of those rare sweet moments. I asked him later that night if that meant he was "Honey Bee"??

There are just no words capable of describing the beauty and marvel that we had seen already on this trip. Yellowstone Lake was one of the first wonders of Yellowstone we encountered after coming through Sylvan Pass. It is one of the largest lakes above 7,000 feet.

Before we got to West Thumb Geyser Basin we saw a bull elk grazing in a clearing. We stopped to take a picture.

We walked through the West Thumb Geyser Basin and then went to Old Faithful. We arrived just as it was erupting. We wanted to get a better view so we walked around and looked at the other geysers. After Old Faithful, we made one last stop for the day in the Lower Geyser Basin at Fountain Paint Pot. We just happened to catch the eruption of Fountain Geyser. It was larger and neater than Old Faithful but it is less predictable and erupts only about every 6-12 hours. These are only a few of the amazing pictures of the wonders of Yellowstone's thermal activity.  It is a little scary to think about all that is going on underground there!

West Thumb Geyser Basin
West Thumb Geyser Basin & Yellowstone Lake

West Thumb Geyser Basin Selfie

Old Faithful

Fountain Geyser

Fountain Geyser Sunset Angle

Here is a little video so you can hear the sound of thermal activity:

One thing you don't realize unless you are there is how bad the thermal features smell...the hydrogen sulfide. The worst rotten egg smells ever.

Tue July 21 - Elk, Bison, and Bear...Oh My
Yellowstone National Park

We covered a lot of ground again today. We started with Mud Volcano. Amazing! Right after Sulphur Caldron, we saw a grizzly bear in a clearing! Wow!
Can you see the grizzly?  I made sure we stayed far enough away ;)

 Then we saw a lot of bison before heading through The Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone.

We did Uncle Tom's Trail to get a better view of Lower Falls. It was over 300 steps down and then back up! MAYBE it wouldn't have been so bad if the air wasn't so thin there as the elevation is over 8,000 feet. It was a nice view though. After that, we stopped at Canyon Village to eat and did a little gift shop shopping.

Upper Falls
Lower Falls

This one was a nail biter!

Then we saw a lot of elk as we came through Mammoth Hot Springs.

 The road to the Roosevelt Arch was closed. I had to traipse through construction to get my picture.

 We stopped to see the travertine terraces on the way back through Mammoth Hot Springs.

Then we noticed Josh's rental had a flat. We tried to air it up and make it to a service station but ended up having to put the spare on.

On the way back in, we had another elk and another grizzly sighting.

Wed July 22 - The Teton Trek
Yellowstone National Park, Grand Tetons, Jackson Hole

We left Cody into Yellowstone for the last time this morning. We enjoyed one last drive around Yellowstone Lake and cross over Fishing Bridge. Then it was exit Yellowstone and enter Grand Teton. Our first views of The Grand Tetons with the lake was unforgettable. I believe it was even prettier than all of our Yellowstone views.

We got into Jackson Hole around 2:30 and found a place called Merry Piglet Mexican for lunch. The salsa there was the best I have ever had! Wish I could have figured out a way to take some home!

As we left for our rafting trip a good rain had set in. I was getting concerned we might not get to do what I had looked forward to the most. On the way into the visitor center to meet our guide, Bernie, we saw a bull moose grazing by the river. Then, across the river bank, we saw Mama Moose with 2 calves. My picture wasn't too clear, though.

We had almost decided not to do the trip due to weather but then we took another look at the radar and it looked like it was clearing out. Bernie said he did not have any safety concerns about going, but he was concerned about the rain impacting our comfort and scenic views. We decided to go for it. So glad we did! The Teton views were amazing. We also saw bald eagles, beavers, moose, elk....oh, and metal-larks (Bernie's witty name for the airplanes we saw).

Our First Grand Teton View From Our Raft

Two of the Many Beavers We Saw

Aren't they cute?

We loved our guide, Bernie!

By the time we got back, we were ready to thaw our hands and feet and EAT!

We went to Snake River Brewing Company. I got the Big Hole Burger but ended up wishing I had gotten the Italian Sausage Pizza. It tasted so good!

Thu July 23 - Riding the Range

After making sure we snapped a few pictures of the antler arches, we left Jackson Hole promising we would return for a longer visit.

We had grabbed the local newspaper which had an article about bison attacking a tourist. I can believe it after some folks we saw. We saw one guy get within 35-40 yards of a grizzly and then argue with the park ranger when he made him back away!

It was time to journey across the Old West to Cheyenne. Alex had been looking for antelope this whole trip and she finally found them plentiful along this route.

We stopped in at TripAdvisors #4 ranked Broadway Burger Station in Rock Springs, Wyoming for lunch. The teriyaki burger was delicious and I got the banana cream shake to sip on the go as I took a turn at the wheel.

We got to Cheyenne in time to see the house that Mom and Dad lived in, where Mom used to work, and the entrance to the F.E. Warren Air Force Base. We enjoyed dinner at a place called Poor Richard's, another very good pick.

Fri July 24 - Fun Frontier Day Friday

The Daddy of 'em All was our first family rodeo experience. I had only been to one rodeo in Martin back in college so I wasn't sure what to expect.

After we got parked, we realized we had left the tickets back at the hotel. Luckily, Chad was able to get them reissued at the box office while we explored the Cheyenne Frontier Days vendors and watched the Native American dances at Indian Village. They were really entertaining and their wardrobes were something to see. It was not at all what I had envisioned it would be.

Mom, Alex, Noah, and I decided we would get in the rodeo spirit and purchased our western hats. We were rodeo ready.

The rodeo was very entertaining. But why in the world a person would subject themselves to that danger I can't comprehend. One bareback contestant had a close brush with death. In one of the steer wrestling rounds, I think the poor creature was killed when the rider landed on him and snapped his neck. They surrounded him and said the vet would see to him. They later said he was okay, but I don't see how.

I felt so bad for one of the barrel racers. She had a beautiful ride and scored the best time ever at the arena but then they said that one of the barrels wasn't properly placed. When she had to ride again at the end of show she plowed right through the first barrel. Stinks for her!

After the rodeo, we ate some concession food at the Midway. Noah and I did a few of the carnival rides (Alex had a headache) and then we left for Denver.

Sat July 25 - That's a Wrap!!!

Noah did much better on the flight home even though he still had A LOT of nervous chatter. This vacation has really been great despite the 2200+ road miles, luggage delays, and LONG security lines.

We were happy to be back in Nashville, although we sure didn't miss the humidity! We introduced Mom and Dad to the goodness of Newk's before hitting I-40 homeward bound.

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