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.
Our original plan was to spend the afternoon hiking the area surrounding the Craters of the Moon monument, but we enjoyed our time in Hagerman enough that we stayed for a few extra hours after lunch. When we got to the lands surrounding the monument, we were surprised to find that Craters wasn’t as barren as we expected. Shrubby pioneer plants have all but taken over many of the lava flows, which continue right up to the base of the surrounding mountains.
The lava fields of the monument lie within the Great Rift of Idaho, an area of tectonic fractures which includes one of the deepest open rifts on Earth. Due to the efforts of Robert Limbert and others in the 1920s, the area was declared a national park during Calvin Coolidge’s administration.
The loop road is usually closed during winter, but due to the lack of snow, it was open when we arrived. The road leads to several geologic features, including some spatter cones visitors can walk up into. The difference between the two most accessible ones is striking: one cone has had several feet of its elevation eroded due to visitor traffic through the years, while the other is only just starting to show the wear caused by the weight of several thousand dusty shoes. Other stops provide parking spaces at trailheads to see petrified trees, different ages of lava flows, and the burgeoning plant and animal life which have a slightly tenuous grasp in the rugged area.
The views of the area at sunset are quite striking, with the bruised blue of twilight arising behind the black hills of the east, while ravens cry over the pink-orange sun which finds its daily rest amidst the burnt red volcanic rock of the west. Nestled in between, the chipping cries of douglas squirrels cease as the day turns into night over the small sheltered valleys of the area. Heck, its landscape unique and beautiful enough to make even the worst writers among us try to wax eloquent.
The Other Half and I decided for our most recent anniversary to celebrate both our love of the outdoors and our relationship with a trip to knock something off the bucket list: seeing an active volcano.
Okay, no, there wasn’t lava bubbling and spewing forth from a cone, nor were there sacrificial rites or even a vaguely smoking shoe sole. As a matter of fact, the volcano in question hasn’t even erupted in the last 1300 years. Despite this, however, there remain enough hot springs and seismic activity for Newberry Volcano to maintain its label as an active volcano.
Mount Rainier National Park was originally a national forest; its national park designation came in 1899 at the order of President McKinley. Rainier is the dominating feature of the park’s landscape, a mountain among mountains; it is also an active volcano. On a bright summer day last year, I got it into my head that I wanted to see Mount Rainier at sunrise. I had about 24 hours to convince the Other Half that this was a good idea. Unfortunately, the odds were stacked against me, mostly because my plan necessitated getting up at 2am to make the drive.
When we moved up here, we struggled to find appropriate places we could bring the dog with us. We were used to being able to take him, and occasionally the cat, on all of our hikes, errands, Sonic runs (he lives for his ‘small water with extra ice’), etc. Unfortunately, living in an area with a high percentage of pet owners means that everyone else also feels entitled to bring their dog with them. Quite a few of the people we have met have been wonderful, caring individuals with dogs who are well-trained and mindful of their surroundings. Just as many have brought untrained, aggressive, or, on the opposite end of the spectrum, timid, dogs to public places before they perhaps should have.
Anyway, we have been trying to find a place that combines our love of hiking and wildlife-watching with a distinct lack of people. It’s more difficult than you might expect. However, we have discovered the secret to hiking in the Northwest: no one else gets up before 9am*.