Two weeks ago I went with some friends to Wyoming to hike the Tetons and swing by some of Yellowstone's greatest hits. I had been through that area before on a family trip 16 (!!!!) years ago, but I'm pretty sure all we did was drive by the Tetons on the way to Yellowstone, where we stayed only long enough to watch Old Faithful erupt. This time, I was excited for a longer trip and to actually get out of the car.
The trip was amazing. I was worried that I was so in need of a vacation that my expectations were way too high, but nothing disappointed. In Idaho I tried finger steaks and we drove the IRL Oregon Trail and no one in our party drowned or died of cholera. Jackson was charming and full of good food. I ate bison twice and bought jerky for later, tried huckleberries after seeing them on every menu and in every gift shop (but sorry, I don't want your purple popcorn), and just drank in the scenery. There was a boat trip to hiking canyons in the Tetons with deer and marmots and chipmunks and one huge bull moose, and one adrenaline-pumping snow crossing. As drought refugees we exclaimed at streams and waterfalls and lakes with actual water in them and gleefully outran a thunderstorm, then later watched apocalyptic clouds gather over the mountains and oohed and ahhed at all the lightening. For recovery we took a few turns downhill on the local alpine slides.
In Yellowstone we saw (and smelled) the earth cracked open. We watched tourists get uncomfortably close to a buffalo, watched some elk hanging out as yard dogs at the ranger housing, and hiked more than we would have liked 2 days after the Tetons (that was me, limping down all the stairs). We saw where the buffalo roam in Hayden Valley and a sign announcing bear country (but not one bear), saw the brilliant colors of Grand Prismatic Spring (aka the grand sulfur spa), and smelled the foulness of the belching Mud Volcano. We saw geysers and ate terrible food (I did get some decent huckleberry ice cream so it wasn't a total bust).
We ended the trip with tired legs, one uneaten bunch of bananas and one unused can of bear spray. Basically, it was 4 days living in John Denver lyrics and it was fantastic!
Good Sights (aka my National Parks Service PSA)
Grand Teton National Park I've never hiked anything like what we did in the Tetons. We hiked 19 miles over 12 hours, with about a 4,000 feet elevation gain, which is no joke when you are starting at 6,000 feet. We definitely felt the altitude at the highest point, crossing the divide between two canyons. If you aren't into hiking, just driving through will impress you. Those mountains are something else. I'm still not ready to leave them and I last saw them 10 days ago.
Yellowstone National Park On our last day we got up early and drove to Yellowstone. We hit almost all the highlights there, including Grand Canyon and Lower Falls, Hayden Valley, Mammoth Hot Springs, Mud Volcano, and Grand Prismatic Spring. We got super lucky at Old Faithful, arriving 5 minutes before it went off, and about 1 minute before the Beehive Geyser erupted, which was very impressive and apparently unpredictable; it only happens once per day, if you're lucky.
Snake River Brewing They'll put their river in your liver.
Lotus Cafe This seemed to be the local healthy spot in Jackson, with fresh juices and tons of vegan and gluten free menu options. The blue corn griddlecakes were awesome, and not just because the dish was called the "Flap Jackson". Plus, bison sausage!
Hatch Taqueria and Tequilas They basically served us vats of tortilla soup and everything was much more food than I bargained for, but everything was delicious and our server was amazing after we explained our friend was starving to death and could we please have our chips and quac like 5 minutes ago?
Slippery Otter Pub As if all the bison wasn't enough, I had to branch out and try an elk burger in West Yellowstone. When in Montana, you know? Also, their signature appetizer is cream cheese and jalapeno wontons served with a huckleberry dipping sauce. Was it weird? Yes. Did we inhale them? Definitely.
The Copper Onion It looks like the old-timey, speakeasy look has arrived in Salt Lake City. We ate the most rushed brunch ever here on our way to the airport, but the ricotta dumplings were worth stopping in for.