We’ve driven by Rocky Mountain National Park so many times in our lives that we really have no valid excuses as to why we haven’t visited before. On our trip home this spring, we decided to finally take the plunge and visit the park. Most of the hotels in Estes Park were either full or didn’t allow pets, so we stayed a bit further away in Loveland for the night.
Back in April, the Other Half was scheduled to take an additional licensing exam in California (which he passed!). He had his choice of several sites, but he chose to take his test in the community of Visalia, a quiet city whose morning scent of cattle reminds you of its agricultural origin.
The third day of our New Years road trip adventure, we begin in California. Humboldt bay shines on this winter morning, so white it shimmers like a mirage in the deeper areas. After breakfast, we decide to stick around the area and drive to the South Jetty, along the mudflats that comprise the driveable portions of the Humboldt Bay National Wildlife Refuge.
Picture it: you pull into a rutted pullout at 5:30 in the morning. When you open the car door, all the warm air in the car exits with you, leaving you near-freezing in a darkened field. You hear a bison snort somewhere nearby, and your breath momentarily fogs your glasses as you exhale. You fasten on your headlamp, and your feet crunch into the packed gravel as you begin the half-mile walk to your destination. The half-light of dawn begins creeping slowly around you, allowing you to pick out sagebrush from grasses. Dark buildings loom before you. Ahead, it starts to sound like someone is playing foursquare with a rubber bouncy-ball.
After our adventure at Yellowstone, we trekked down to our cabin in Jackson, Wyoming. The scenery through Idaho was beautiful, filled with farmland, and we luckily hit the Teton Pass just before sunset. Not only did we get to see the valley bathed in the golden afterglow of a spring rainstorm, but we also didn’t have to take the curvy, snow-covered road after dark.
The next morning, we were up at sunrise and ready to see what could be better than Yellowstone National Park. If it tells you anything, the Other Half and I discussed the minute differences between ‘awesome’ and ‘majestic’ in describing the two parks for at least 30 minutes. We may also have had way too much coffee that morning…
We weren’t entirely sure whether we’d like to spend one or two days at Yellowstone, but we finally decided that due to the driving distance we would have to cover from our hotel to the park, as well as the presence of the dog, we’d stick around the Jackson and Grand Tetons area for an extra day instead. Because of all the awesome things we saw in this short period, I’ll share with you a 5-step guide to seeing as much of Yellowstone as possible in a day. No, it is not possible to see the whole thing (or even 1/2 or 1/3) in one day, but you can prioritize what you want to see and plan from there.
Newberry National Monument is a short drive away from a more well-known national park: Crater Lake. Founded in 1902, the park protects a deep freshwater lake cradled by the remnants of what was once the volcanic Mount Mazama. A large eruption about 7,700 years ago devastated the mountain and created the gigantic hole which now house’s the eponymous Crater Lake.
We got up early to make the drive to our new location in time to see the sunrise. Unfortunately, several area fires meant that the lake was quite hazy during our trip, giving it an almost otherworldly glow and reducing our visibility somewhat.