An unplanned yellowstone road trip in winter!
How We Got To This Point…
When leaving korea I didn’t think a yellowstone road trip would happen, but i’m glad it did! Long story short, I was coming home to the USA from South Korea. While living there I adopted Shamus which made shipping him home a problem to solve. To read his story check out his blog post here. The international flights allowed up to 150 lbs for the pet plus the crate, however, domestic flights only allowed up to 100 lbs. Shamus weighed 75 lbs and the create was about 50 lbs, so we would be over.
After discovering this I called my mom with a spontaneous question! My mom is used to long drives so I asked her if she would come get us in Seattle due to the circumstances. Previously they were stationed in Kansas for the Air Force which made traveling back and forth to Pennsylvania several times a typical drive for her. We made all of the arrangements such as getting my SUV inspected, I sent over some gas money, ect. We also figured a few stops on the way back to make the trip a little more memorable. Yellowstone being one of them!
The Road Trip
Shamus and I flew into Seattle-Tacoma Airport in Washington state where we waited for my mom to arrive. Before we started the journey back I had to treat her to some authentic ramen for dinner. After all, I was bragging how amazing it was in Korea! Where we’re from in Pennsylvania, ramen is not common at restaurants.
Once on the road the weather was calling for heavy snow. We made a pit stop to pick up some tire chains just in case we needed them, but my vehicle has 4-wheel drive. It was a really interesting experience for me to drive over the snow covered mountains and I loved it! After driving through the night we ended up visiting my mom’s friend for an extra day in Idaho. She had met them when we lived in Kansas. They were pretty self sufficient with chickens, home canning, and firewood – which I helped to cut some to get some activity in! For breakfast the next day they made pancakes and put the homemade preserves on top instead of syrup. I was curious to try it and it ended up being delicious!
After staying the night we got up super early (around 3 or 4 am) to continue our journey north east towards the Yellowstone north gate. When we finally stopped for some breakfast we saw a sign for the “Grizzly & Wolf Discovery Center” in West Yellowstone. I love wolves, so I was particularly excited to see them. The place was small, but it was well designed and the animals were well kept.
The funny memory we have of this place is a story about “Bubba,” my little brother. While walking around the complex the wolves would come around to the fence with their heads down and eyes wide open like they wanted him for lunch! The entire time they kept the dead stare on him but ignored my mom and I.
I’d love to go back one day and see what they’ve added. When we were there they were working on a huge expansion of the grizzly bear enclosure. I enjoy spending time just sitting, watch, and taking photos of animals. PS: those things are HUGE! Would not want to be camping with one of those snooping around for food. Continuing on we made a pit stop along one of the montana rivers where I took some photos of Shamus….again….but we weren’t too far from the north gate.
We’ve Arrived at Yellowstone!
This yellowstone road trip became real when we rolled up to the park gate and paid to enter, I won’t lie, I was super excited. We drove down the road slowly, looking in every direction at the landscape and hoping to see some wildlife. The first thing we came across was a herd of antelope laying in an open field. Luckily there was a car pull off so I could take photos to remember the experience. We could see a few coyotes roaming the hillside as well. They were hoping to get some diner! If you’ve ever seen the movie “Wild America,” this place reminds me of that adventure. I spent about 30 min waiting to see what the coyotes would do and just observing the antelope in general, but nothing happened so we kept moving onto the next area.
Remember when you’re driving these roads that wildlife is free to move about anywhere. It’s important not to speed and watch out for animals because they will walk out into the road unaware. Several times animals were either crossing around a turn or eating vegetation along the roadside. We saw various elk while driving up to the mammoth hot springs. A small herd was at the top of a mountainous rock that seemed impossible for them to get on top.
Mammoth Hot Springs
At the mammoth hot springs we had to park then walk a wooden path to the springs. You can smell sulfur but I personally didn’t mind it because of my trip to Iceland. I was just excited to see the calcium falls! I wanted to reach out to touch the falls because the colors were so beautiful. There are several paths to walk around in the area showing different variations of the calcium. We drove up to the top since it was getting dark fast! At the top you could see the sun was setting. The view was breathtaking, featuring multiple colors and rolling mountains from all around us. Once the sun was almost completely set, we went back to the car because of how many large animal tracks there were. I was afraid but we didn’t have anything to use for protection.
If I had the time and money I would have done a few tours since you can only access the other parts of the park during the winter by doing so. With that said though, we fully plan on taking another trip there when everything is open.
Later That Night…The End of Our Yellowstone Road Trip
That night we wanted to try the local food. We walked around Gardner, which is the small town right outside the north gate, looking for a restaurant we thought looked good. What we take for granted these days are the number of places open late! (After 5pm) Mostly only bars were open but there was one ritzy restaurant, definitely out of budget, that I knew would have excellent food. While there I tried the buffalo burger and mom had the elk burger. It was pretty good and lean. I’d certainly get it again. She loved the elk as well!
We stayed in the only hotel that allowed pets so I could work from my laptop the next day which was Christmas Eve (oh the joy of being an adult!) There was a grocery store across the street that we got some food at to hold us over in the hotel room and also snacks for the road. The next day was Christmas. In the main area where breakfast was served, it was already snowing from the day before. Looking outside was so peaceful, and felt great to have a white Christmas again like I loved growing up. I wasn’t home surrounded by family, but I had my mom and little brother at a beautiful park surrounded by god’s creation, and that was good enough.
After all that, we spent most of our available time and money, so we decided to drive straight through the rest of the way home. The only thing I didn’t get to do was Mount Rushmore which will just have to be another adventure. This yellowstone road trip will not be one to forget!
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