Western US Vacation

Yesterday, we arrived home from vacation in the western United States. It was interesting to see a variety of different landscapes and visit some amazing national parks and cities. Our itinerary involved 10 states, 4,527 miles flown, 1,973 miles driven and who knows how many miles walked at the destinations. And for the most part the plan was executed without a hitch. Here is review of our experience (along with a corresponding map):

09/30: We flew from Nashville to Chicago to Seattle to Las Vegas. When we arrived in Vegas, we found out that they didn’t have any cars available in the class I reserved (I thought that was the whole point of making a reservation, but whatever), so they upgraded us to the next class. We ended up with a Jeep. The satellite radio and heated leather seats were very useful and even though I think we could have gotten away without using the four wheel drive, it was nice to have as an option. Lastly, we went to visit Freemont Street, which was incredible.

10/01: We started by going to the top of the Stratosphere to get an overview of Las Vegas. We then went to the Bellagio fountains (which weren’t on at the time) and walked the strip to down near the New York Hotel & Casino. We finished up in Las Vegas by visiting the famous Las Vegas sign. Next, we drove to and visited Hoover Dam. And then we drove to our hotel next to the Grand Canyon.

10/02: We spent the entire morning on the south rim of the Grand Canyon. It was an excellent day as the temperatures were in the high 60’s (as compared the 90’s in Vegas). In the afternoon, we drove to Monument Valley, which was also an amazing landscape. Then we made our way to our hotel near Mesa Verde.

10/03: We spent the morning at Mesa Verde. We went on an hour long ranger guided tour of the Cliff Palace, which is the largest cliff dwelling in the park. The tour was really cool and a must if you ever visit Mesa Verde. Then we went to Four Corners, where 6 governing bodies have jurisdictional boundaries: the states of Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico and Utah as well as the tribal governments of the Navajo and Ute Nations. We then made our way to our hotel near Arches. On the way, we had intended on visiting Natural Bridges National Monument or Canyonlands National Park, but there wasn’t quite enough time.

10/04: We spent the first half of the day in Arches National Park. It rained that morning and the clouds persisted with windy conditions, but at least the rain had stopped while we were out and about. We drove through all of the paved roads in the park. Some arches you can see from the roads, but to see others you need to hike in. We hiked a little to see a small number of the arches, but I imagine you could spend quite a few days on that task alone. That afternoon we drove to Salt Lake City and that night we had dinner with Uncle Sully’s family. It was good to see them as it had been a while.

10/05: We spent the whole day in Salt Lake on and around Temple Square. The weather was a little more rainy than the previous day, but it still allowed us to have a look around town. Interestingly, we ran into people from home a couple of times during the day. We ate lunch at the Lion House Pantry, which was wonderful. Later while we were in the Tabernacle, we were lucky to see one of the tabernacle organists giving a personal tour to some people during which she played Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D minor. At the end of the day, we went to the Family History Library, where Kara did some genealogical work on one of her lines. She found out a couple new things, but not quite as much as we had hoped for.

10/06: Before leaving Salt Lake, we stopped off at This is the Place Monument. We then left to go to the Grand Teton National Park. It was raining that morning and as we climbed in elevation it turned to snow. Unfortunately, the Tetons were mostly blocked by clouds when we arrived, but it was still enjoyable driving around the park. Though, we think we saw the top of Grand Teton above the clouds after we took off from Bozeman.

10/07: When we were at the Grand Teton visitor center the previous day we noticed that the south entrance to Yellowstone National Park was closed due to weather-caused road conditions. When I called the road condition number early in the morning, all roads in the park were closed. After breakfast, the conditions had improved and the west entrance was open (but still not the south entrance). We decided to drive around the park and enter from the west, which required driving over Teton Pass west of Jackson, WY to go through Idaho to get to West Yellowstone, MT. The pass was a little icy, but activation of the four-wheel drive mode and a very slow pace solved that problem. Otherwise, in Idaho we saw moderate to heavy snow, but we didn’t lose too much time from the detour as the road conditions were good. In fact, we only missed out on the West Thumb Geyser Basin and were able to see everything else we wanted to see. We started with Old Faithful and the surrounding Upper Geyser Basin, then saw the Midway Geyser Basin, Lower Geyser Basin, Artist Paintpots, and Gibbon Falls. We then drove back to West Yellowstone for the night.

10/08: On our second day in Yellowstone, we started with the Norris Geyser Basin then went to the Upper and Lower Yellowstone Falls near the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone. We then made our way to the Mud Volcano and Sulphur Caldron. On the way there we saw a herd of 30-50 bison crossing the road very slowly with quite a few cars mixed in. Being boxed in, there really wasn’t anywhere to go, so we nervously waited as a hole opened up to pass the herd. After lunch, we went to the north side of the park to see the Mammoth Hot Springs. On the way there, we came up to a stopped car. After we stopped, it became apparent that they were observing a bear. The bear was lazily making its way towards the road, but the car in front of us erroneously thought this was a good time to follow the bear. At one point, the bear was in front of their car and was almost hit by another car attempting to pass everyone. This caused the bear to jump backwards and eventually make its way back into the forest, after which we passed the car in front of us. Anyway, we went to the Mammoth Hot Springs and finished Yellowstone by exiting through the Roosevelt Arch and driving on to Bozeman, MT.

10/09: We returned our rental car at Bozeman airport and flew from Bozeman to Denver to Nashville.

(View Larger Map)

I’ll post again when the pictures are ready and available for viewing.


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