The Yukon to Yellowstone

Montana. Wyoming. Utah. While not quite on the same playing field as New York City or San Francisco, the aspects that make those states so different from NYC and SF are exactly the reasons which enticed me to travel there: no crowds, no concrete jungle, and the promise of wilderness and adventure.

NYC has nothing on this

Bison holding up traffic

When I received an email from my co-worker, Amanda, asking if I was interested in a Yellowstone trip, I jumped. I obviously did my due diligence (“So, what dates should I buy my ticket for?”), and in true Tracey fashion, signed myself up with no idea what the itinerary was going to look like, no idea how the group dynamic was going the play out (5 co-workers could take a dangerous turn), and no idea who was going to pitch the tent. Because, let’s be honest…it was not going to be me. Throw caution to the wind, it’s time for adventure!

A few weeks later, I land in Salt Lake City, and head to the hotel, where the crew and I party hard with a McD’s ice cream cone and brilliantly trashy reality tv.

The next morning, the lot of us load into Big Bertha, our 7 passenger Yukon XL, for a bright and early start…Yellowstone bound! Along the route, we debate stopping at some very impressive landmarks, including but not limited to: the giant spud drive-in theatre in Idaho, miscellaneous ghost towns, and a two-headed calf in Boise, Idaho. In the end, we visited the largest man-made geyser in Soda Springs. Added bonus: a lovely cemetery behind the geyser, which we clearly took advantage of for a “mod” photo shoot.

Soda Springs Geyser!

Poor Archibald is rolling in his grave

6 hours later, we have made it to our destination: Grand Teton National Park, Yellowstone’s lovely neighbor. We set our belongings down and immediately head to Hidden Falls, a magical 4 mile hike, promising waterfalls and fairy dust scattered upon our arrival. Or, a grizzly bear sighting. Magical.

Trailhead to Hidden Falls

Although we didn’t meet a grizzly bear, we did meet a grizzly local, who assured us bear spray was an effective method to arm us against bears…and that there were plenty of bears we needed to arm ourselves against.

After hiking, we aim for the local market, to purchase provisions for the next day’s grand excursion to Yellowstone.  I immediately see a can of bear spray, selling for $43.99. Without a moment’s hesitation, I value my life at somewhere less than $43.99 and nix the idea of buying bear spray.

One thing is for sure…we were plenty loud.

After buying beef jerky and trail mix over bear spray (priorities), we head to our cabin for heart to heart discussions (unfortunately not over a fire and s’mores…totally against the rules in wildfire county) and an early bedtime, to prepare for our 6AM (ugh) start time.

As we begin the journey to Yellowstone, Kyle & Brittany have the following conversation:

Kyle: “Do you know where we are going?”

Brittany: “I have a map…”

Me: “That does not mean yes…pretty sure I just saw her turn the map right side up a moment ago”

Maps are so weird.

Surprisingly enough, Brittany and Kyle successfully navigate us to what I affectionately refer to as the “Old geezer”, known to the rest of the population as “Old Faithful Geyser”.

While very impressed with the velocity and height of the geyser’s eruption, I was less than impressed with how quickly it finished. To be fair, it isn’t named “Young Faithful Geyser” for a reason.

Excuse me, bison, you are in my picture

Post geyser, the crew, heretofore penned “Kaptrow Viddilus” as a conglomeration of our last names, arrives at the trailhead to Mystic Falls, another magical 4 mile hike, promising a luscious waterfall. And perhaps a grizzly bear or two.

Geo-thermal pools!

Hot hot hot springs!

Brittany and I take the road much less traveled, which quickly veers from a trek off the beaten path to a climb up sheer cliffs (okay, a scramble up large rocks). I had more than a few stomach-in-throat moments, when I realized a shoddy hand-hold could break my back and following Brittany may or may not lead to my untimely death. Brittany, the fearless leader, successfully leads us over the rocks, and onto a sweet, sweet trail. I then take the lead, which promptly gets us lost again, until we eventually find the rest of Kaptrow Viddilus, and the promised mystic waterfall! We have a photo shoot, wind our way down the mountain, and enjoy a swimmingly good picnic lunch of peanut butter and banana, soon to become the staple meal of the trip.

Mystic Falls!

Made it to the top!

Brittany being a little monkey

Once re-fueled, we mosey on over to Gibbon Waterfall, where we receive our first (and far from last) scolding of the trip. Sincerely believing the picture of the waterfall would be better from a closer angle, we hop the wall, and snap our photos. As we are climbing back over the wall, a white truck stops on the nearby road. The driver rolls down his window and shouts out “Ladies! Don’t let me catch you climbing over those walls, again!” As I begin to form the words “Bite me”, Amanda and Brittany much more politely shout out “Yes, sir, we won’t!” Inquiring why they succumbed so quickly to “some random dude yelling at us from his car”, Amanda responds, “No way, it was definitely a park ranger; he was in a white truck!”, because apparently white is a very legit color…noted for my next bank heist.

This picture would not have been possible without a little illegal activity

Next on our Yellowstone agenda is Bensen’s Peak, a “strenuous” hike the boys quickly declare is not on their agenda. As they head to check us in to the hotel, the girls and I begin the trek to the top of the mountain. Brittany blazes the trail and we’re at the peak in no time. Hardest part, done and done…or so I thought; this never proves to be the case with Brittany. Upon noticing a hut at the top of the mountain, the first thought that pops into her head is “How can I climb to the roof?” She finds a pole on the side of the hut which she reverse firemans up, grabs the antennae and shimmies her way onto the roof. Upon seeing Brittany on the roof, I immediately decide I would also like to be on the roof. After one failed attempt, I take a running leap and thanks to a hoist from Amanda, crawl my way to the roof where I promptly collapse over. We take a picture and then comes the hard part we hadn’t yet considered: getting down. Brittany decides to navigate her way down the sheer (10 foot) drop to the rocks below by firemaning down a different pole on the side of the hut. I decide I will spend the rest of my days on the top of this hut. After several minutes of encouragement and cursing my life decisions, I grab the pole, flip myself around and surprisingly make a clean dismount. Gabby Douglas, take that!

Because the top isn’t high enough

We safely make our way down the mountain, avoid the grizzly bears and meet the boys at the bottom, destination: Mammoth Hot Springs, a large complex of hot springs created thousands of years ago by geo-thermal activity.

Mammoth Springs

Too tired to trek for more than a few minutes, we check into our cabin in the adorable lodging community, a la the Dharma Initiative commune from the LOST t.v. series. En route to dinner, Brittany and I receive scolding #2, for jacking a rickshaw and wheeling our way to dinner.

Scolding #2

Scolding #3 and #4 come the next day, while hiking up Mount Washburn. Bored with the paved trail, we blaze our own trail, scrambling up the rocks to the top. Scolding #3 comes as a result of a loosened boulder falling down the trail (fair) and scolding #4 comes from our “destructive habits to the natural environment” (also, possibly fair). Kaptrow Viddilus reaches the top of the mountain together, where myself and a very friendly squirrel enjoy trail mix.

Friendly little guy!

Here he is, a few minutes later!

While hiking down the mountain, I once again mistakenly follow Brittany up a sheer cliff (/big rock), where I have heart-in-stomach moment #281. Mid-climb, as I hear Brittany call down “Are you still coming?” my leg begins to shake and I get just enough of a foot-hold to make my way over the rock face. I slide my way down to the rest of the group, and stay far from Brittany until reaching safe ground.

Note to self: bring rope when hiking with Brittany

The most awe-inspiring site of the entire trip is easily awarded to The Grand Canyon of Yellowstone, a canyon beautifully decorated with a mirage of colors and a rapid river, formed by an all-powerful waterfall.

The Grand Canyon of Yellowstone

Brittany and I then chase our tails down a side hiking trail, which eventually opens up to a lily pond…and to scolding #5, after we realized we did not inform the rest of the group we were exploring another hiking trail. Oops!

Sweaty and exhausted from the day’s activities, the group heads to Yellowstone Lake, a magnificent (and cold!) lake boasting a 141 mile shoreline and a 132 mile surface area. We slide down a hill to reach the lake, roll up our jeans and wade in. We roll up our jeans a bit further and wade a bit deeper. Then we throw caution to the wind and take the very cold plunge all the way in. We swim for 10 minutes and drag ourselves out of the water, at least 10 pounds heavier than when we started.

Taking a dip

After getting naked in the woods and changing into dry clothes, we begin our quest for nature’s  hot springs. 30 minutes later, I find myself fording a river a la the Oregon Trail. Although I didn’t lose an oxen or die of dysentery, I did find myself soaked to the bone in my no-longer-dry jeans.

Womp womp

En route to the natural hot springs, we pass a sign warning of us of a bacteria in the water that could result in rashes, infections, and possible fatality. We shrug our shoulders; onward and upward we go! We eventually reach the hot springs, which definitely looks like a watery conglomeration of poop; that sign was not messing around. Even I said no thank you to this adventure; sometimes the journey really is worth more than the destination.

Cold and wet, I count down the minutes to the hot tub awaiting us at the lodge. Unfortunately, math is hard and I lose count of the minutes. Before I know it, it is 9:55, and the hot tub closes at 10pm. Not one to take no for an answer, I convince Brittany to break into the hot tub with me. We arrive at the enclosed hot tub minutes before the gate was locked, giving me just enough time to slyly unhook the lock on a window. Brittany & I wait for the staff to leave the grounds, and make our way to the unlocked window, where we notice a wooden latch nailed below…clever, indeed!

Still not taking no for an answer, Brittany and I take a moment to consult our way through the situation. We first head to the nearby changing stalls to see if there is a hidden door, opening to the hot tub room. No luck. We notice a 6-inch hole in the wooden columns encasing the room, and a bench below the walls. Having just finished watching the Olympic gymnasts, I feel confident I can contort my body through the hole. I climb up, slide my legs through, and get slightly stuck around the Gluteus Maximus region. I try 3 more times before admitting defeat and aborting mission. Brittany and I try our best to find a cause for mischief throughout the rest of the grounds, but we eventually decide the best thing to do is not get arrested in Wyoming.

We head back to the hotel, where Amanda is packing up her belongings. After a few minutes, Amanda mumbles, “Where is my lap-top?” As she is searching for the answer, I can almost see the cogs in her brain turning. After a minute of working her way through the weekend’s activities, her hand flies to her mouth, as she gasps, “Oh my god! Oh my god! I left my laptop in the drawer in the first cabin”, and rushes out of the room. We follow Amanda to the boys’ room, where she has already contacted the lodge, who have located and safely stowed away her laptop for pick-up the next morning. Close call.

We pick up the lap-top en route back to Salt Lake City, and continue merrily on our way. On the drive, we all share positive feedback and constructive criticism in a round-table format, which everyone totally loved doing… I didn’t force the discussion at all. Fetrow then teaches Brittany and me how to play Texas Hold ‘Em, 5 Card Draw, 7 Card Stud, and Indian Poker. As the twelve year old kids we are, Brittany and I most preferred Indian Poker, where we simply place the card on our forehead and bet how much better or worse our card is versus others.

At the end of the day, I can say that I had a swimmingly good time with Kaptrow Viddilus, the best group of (Sense) Scorpions to ever grace Yellowstone National Park. Next destination: Ozarks National Forest in Arkansas. Onward and upward we go!

Additional photos from our hikes in Yellowstone:

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