So this entry follows our journey through the Rocky Mountains starting at Yellowstone and ending at Boulder. We actually weaved in and out of the Rockies so some of the places mentioned are not strictly part of the mountain range, for example Salt Lake City.
We arrived at Yellowstone after a mammoth drive, only to be assaulted by a barrage of neon signs, t-shirt shops and over-weight RV-ers, to top it off the campground we were aiming for was full so we had to spend the night outside the national park. The next morning we cautiously entered the park and thankfully left the tackiness and overcrowding at the gates. Once inside the park we spent the next 3 days in awe. The scenery was beautiful; we saw some incredible coloured springs (Grand Prismic Spring is one of the most famous and it is just amazing, even the steam coming off it was colourful!), we watched ‘Old Faithful’ erupt and we walked through miles of meadows, forest and even along the rim of Yellowstone Canyon. Even more exciting than the scenery was the wildlife. Now you have to understand that neither Matthew nor myself are particular wildlife enthusiasts;
however, once you enter Yellowstone other peoples excitement and feverish wildlife spotting is impossible to resist and only hours after our arrival we were pulling up and whipping out the camera at every mere snap of a twig. I think we were pretty lucky too, we were there in early autumn when lots of the animals are very active in their preparation for winter, so we saw quite a few different animals. There were LOADS of bison!! They just wandered across the roads and at one point we were about an arms length from one!!! We also saw elks, otters (or something similar) and were fortunate enough to see a bear! It was just amazing!
The National Park service is trying to promote the night sky over the next few years and attempting to reduce light pollution so they put on talks at night, which we went along to. Unfortunately, that annoying forest fire smoke I mentioned last time got in the way a bit and the poor ranger was struggling to show us the star constellations through the thick smog and cloud. Despite only staying for half the talk, we both find ourselves looking for the plough, the
W and the summer triangle on an almost nightly basis!
After 3 days we were satisfied we had seen enough so we travelled the short (8 miles) distance to Grand Teton National Park. Again the smoke got in the way and we also had slightly dodgy weather so unfortunately we didn’t get the greatest photos. But you will just have to believe us that the Grand Tetons are pretty awesome. They are 50 miles (I think) of craggy, angry looking mountains that just shoot out of the ground without any warning, complete with glaciers. Over the 2 days we spent in the park we did several epic walks. One through Cascade Canyon, which is a valley between two of the Teton mountains. It was a good 11-12 miles of gorgeousness. The whole valley glowed with the gold, orange and scarlet autumn trees, contrasted by harsh mountains. After this walk we were pretty exhausted so we took ourselves to the nearby Jackson Lodge for what would be an incredible tea. We ordered one main and one desert and they were so enormous that even between us, we couldn’t finish them! I have no idea how one person is meant to
eat that much, really it was an eye-opener.
After almost a week in the mountains we were desperate to get to Salt Lake City to shower and get out of the van for a few days but first we made one more stop. Antelope Island, which is an island in The Great Salt Lake, about 30 miles north of the city. It was very surreal, the lake was so huge it stretched to the horizon (this meant the sunset was epic!). The island was a barren desert of scrub that turned into long, wide beaches. Bizarrely there was a herd of bison living on the island, which added to the strange landscape. We spent the night there and got ravaged by some kind of insects which left me covered in huge lumps!
The Great Salt Lake is fed by 4 rivers but has no outlet except evaporation that leaves behind lots of minerals, so the water is very very salty and we read that you could float on it. This sounded very exciting to me, Matthew wasn’t so easily convinced. However, we both put on our swimming stuff and headed down to the beach. Well it was definitely
Temple Square, SLC
The Tabernacle is the dome building in the background.
a new experience, as soon as you get into the water your body just bobs back up like a balloon! It was crazy! We just lay in the water and bobbed along without having to put any effort in! Afterwards we agreed it was a worthy stop along our route.
We weren’t really sure what to expect from Salt Lake City, being a Mormon stronghold etc etc. but we were honestly blown away by it. The city centres around Temple Square, which houses the temple, the LDS office buildings and the famous Tabernacle concert hall. The whole of downtown was just beautiful, the streets were spotlessly clean and filled with flowers and fountains and well dressed people. After we had found our hostel we got tea and then went to the Tabernacle to watch the world famous tabernacle choir rehearsal, which is open to the public on Thursday evenings. The acoustics in the concert hall are supposedly so good that you can hear a pin drop at the other end of the hall! The sound of the 300 voice choir was astounding, one of my favorite moments of the trip so far. Them Mormons sure can sing!!
next day we walked around the city, went up to the top floor of the LDS office building for a panoramic view of the valley and checked out the lovely outdoor shopping mall. We could happily see ourselves living there, getting a nice flat, soaking up their 300 days of sunshine a year and skiing every weekend (oh yeh, did I mention some of the best skiing in the USA is only 20 minutes down the highway!! So gutted we were too early in the season).
After a few days in civilization we were starting to miss the van so we jumped back in and headed east through the ski town of Park City, which hosted the 2002 Winter Olympics, then on to Steamboat Springs, Colorado. Steamboat Springs (about 300 miles east of Salt Lake City) is another ski town in the typical American linear settlement of a line of buildings on either side of the road. However, it is one of the nicer towns and also has hot springs, yay! We drove up into the hills surrounding the town and camped in a remote little site surrounded by gorgeous golden aspen trees. Nearby was Strawberry Hot Springs which
we sampled the next afternoon, following a very hot and sweaty hike. These were a far cry from the undeveloped springs of Idaho. Someone had cleverly diverted the flow of the springs into several pools built to look like rock pools, each one a different temperature. Although a little over priced, we thought, they were a really nice way to spend a sunny afternoon.
Our next stop was Rocky Mountains National Park, only an hour or so down the highway (in other words very close!). Incredibly we went from sunbathing to hiking through the snow almost over night. Rocky Mountains NP was COLD!!! On our second morning there we woke up to find the ground white with snow and the van windows frosted on the inside! However, we didn’t let this stop us. We spent one day on the trail ridge road, which is a route that takes you up above the clouds over 12.000ft along the ridge of a mountain. It was pretty awesome to see the views and the tundra landscape but so windy!!!
Rocky Mountains NP provided further opportunity to wildlife spot, this time we didn’t so much have to spot the wildlife as to try and avoid being trampled by it. One evening we walked back into the campsite from the trail we’d been on to find a male elk defending his harem from an intruder! The two males, which were huge close up, had a proper antler fight right in front of our site, it was amazing! Move over David Attenborough, we got some cracking photos!
We spent a couple more days hiking in the park before heading 50 miles southeast to Boulder, a college town on the outskirts of Denver. We chose to go to Boulder rather than Denver on the guidebook’s recommendation, always a gamble with Lonely Planet… However, this time I think it paid off. Boulder had a really cool pedestrianized area full of shops and cafes etc. which we spent a couple of days exploring. As it was so cold and kept snowing we ended up sampling quite a few of the cozy looking coffee shops! In the end we gave in and bought gloves and hats, unaware that only days later we would be whipping out the shorts and sandals again.
Apologies for the lack of flow to this blog, but there’s just so much to say about the time we spent in the Rockies that I have to cut a lot out and try and squeeze a lot in. Hope you enjoyed reading anyways!!
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