On The Road – My Trip To Yellowstone

Since Alain is having technical difficulties, I’ll fill in with a travelogue. I drove to Yellowstone National Park last week and stayed four days. It’s a two-day drive from Santa Fe.

If you are driving from the south, I-25 seems like a logical choice. But since the last time I drove to Denver, a lot more people have moved in. There is now a single city from Colorado Springs to Fort Collins, and the current state of I-25 is inadequate to it. Pueblo will join that city within the next couple of years.

I-80 across Wyoming is not so crowded, but there are many trucks. They drive more slowly than cars and can be easily passed. The route I recommend to Yellowstone or Grand Teton is US 287. It is a beautiful drive across the American steppe, but it is two-lane with a 70-mph speed limit. There wasn’t much traffic, though, and many passing lanes and pull-outs. Why are so many people bicycling across Wyoming?

I stayed in an Old Faithful Lodge cabin. I was delighted with the choice, which was my second. It was quiet, and I could walk to the geyser basin. The cafeteria there is not bad, but not special either. The largest number of people cluster around Old Faithful, timed to its eruptions.

July is one of the heavy visitor months, but I wanted to see the wildflowers, and I was not disappointed. I was told that they are particularly wonderful this year because of lots of water through the winter and spring.

After about 10 in the morning, parking lots for the hydrothermal areas fill up. I wake up early, so I got to many of the areas by 7.

Photography is best with the sun low in the sky, anyway. I was lucky to see quite a few of the geysers in eruption. Here’s the Vixen Geyserin the Norris Geyser Basin erupting.

Animals are a big deal for many visitors, not so much for me. They are dangerous and scary, and I would just as soon stay away from them. But I did see bison (many), elk, one royal-looking antelope, one moose and (reportedly) a mama grizzly bear and her cubs. The bear was far enough away by the time I joined the human group that it was hard to tell whether she was a grizzly or not, and people tend to exaggerate. I also saw a bald eagle, another perk of getting up early.


I drove back via North and Middle Parks in Colorado, heading off I-80 at WY 130 and hopscotching down a number of roads to eventually connect with US 285, which leads to Santa Fe. Driving was much like on US 287, except for around I-70, which OMG WAS A SUBURB OF DENVER. Also some Saturday recreational traffic from Colorado Springs at Poncha Springs, but not bad.

It was a wonderful trip. Phone signals except along the I-25 megacity were limited, and there’s not much wifi in the park. But that was fine – it wasn’t the reason I was there.

A few more photos:

Steamboat Geyser not erupting


Yellowstone Lake, Absaroka Mountains in the background


Jackson Lake and Grand Tetons. US 287 comes into Grand Teton National Park, and then you drive north to Yellowstone.

89 replies
  1. 1
    rikyrah says:

    Wow…the pictures are so beautiful.
    Nature is grand.
    And our National Park System is a treasure:)

  2. 2
    Jeffro says:

    Awesome, Cheryl! Mrs. Fro and I are starting to plan our trip out there next summer with the kiddos. We’re thinking of either starting up north (Bozeman or Billings), seeing Yellowstone for a couple days, and then continuing on south to SLC, Grand Teton, Zion, waving at Las Vegas, Grand Canyon, some Route 66 sights/driving, and ending up with a couple days in LA/Hollywood. (Or the reverse!) Looks do-able in about 10 days.

    Anyone’s thoughts on the above would be greatly appreciated! We’re pretty psyched already even though there will be other trips between now and then. =)

  3. 3
    Neldob says:

    It’s beautiful, and so are your pics (yours too B o G). Loove vasty views.

  4. 4
    Cheryl Rofer says:

    @Jeffro: My husband and I did a trip something like that on the way from graduate school at Berkeley, via Seattle, to Los Alamos. One of the things I noted with this trip is that I was able to see many more geysers in action, because I was there for four days and wasn’t as hurried as we were then, with a two-day visit. So I would pick and choose among possible visits to allow unhurried exploration.

  5. 5
    O. Felix Culpa says:

    Beautiful pix! I love how much more one can see (and enjoy) with unhurried exploration.

  6. 6
    Betty Cracker says:

    @Jeffro: Most people go to the South Rim of the Grand Canyon, but IMO, the North Rim is the most beautiful vista. It’s woodsy and much less crowded. There’s a lodge there built by the WPA. The view from it is breathtaking.

    ETA: Great pics, Cheryl!

  7. 7
    Keith P. says:

    I was just watching some videos last week from Yosemite where Alex Honnold was free climbing El Capitan. I get that feeling in my feet no matter how many times I see the videos, but the scenery it simply incredible. I envy the guy who can do that…I lack the mental ability to take that kind of risk, but his life is basically driving to national parks and exotic rock structures all over the world to climb and then gaze at the horizon.

  8. 8
    Soonergrunt says:

    Anyone thinking of doing the 5 National Parks in UT, AKA “The Mighty Five” should consider either spring break or mid- to late-August. The heat and the heavy tourist traffic is down. You can still camp, if that’s your thing. Hotels are available year round, and you can take your car into Zion NP in the off-season.

  9. 9
    Jerzy Russian says:

    @Jeffro: Remember that it is a big place, so give yourself plenty of time driving. I would also suggest Bryce Canyon National Park. You can travel on US Highway 89 and hit Bryce Canyon National Park, Zion National Park, and the North Rim of the Grand Canyon.

  10. 10
    dnfree says:

    @Jeffro: If your route allows, see the Badlands. That’s another scenic place that benefits from an unhurried visit, so if it’s not on your way this trip, keep it in mind for a future trip. When we were there decades ago, there was a modest motel run by native Americans that was actually on the premises and the park rangers had numerous hikes and tours, including around a fire at night.

  11. 11
    sylvainsylvain says:

    Awesome, Cheryl! Mrs. Fro and I are starting to plan our trip out there next summer with the kiddos. We’re thinking of either starting up north (Bozeman or Billings), seeing Yellowstone for a couple days, and then continuing on south to SLC, Grand Teton, Zion, waving at Las Vegas, Grand Canyon, some Route 66 sights/driving, and ending up with a couple days in LA/Hollywood. (Or the reverse!) Looks do-able in about 10 days.

    I spent a couple of summers working in Yellowstone Park, so I may be a bit biased; having said that…

    The parks out west, and Yellowstone in particular, shouldn’t be squeezed into a trip like this. They’re so big, there’s so much to see, you’re cheating yourself just driving through to get to the next place.

    Better to stay in a lodge or room for a couple of nights, go on a couple of day hikes, then go to a different part of the park & do the same. Or if you’ve camped at all in the past, & have the equipment, hike in & camp overnight. Yellowstone is crowded at all the cool sights and on the roads through the park, but start hiking & the people vanish. Especially if you hike to a campsite & spend the night.

    Like I said, maybe I’m biased. But you can’t really do justice to all the mountain west in 10 days. Just pick one place, or maybe two, & dig in a little deeper. 3 or 4 days in Yellowstone/a few in Zion/Bryce Canyon (never been there, can’t help w that), plus drive time would work too.

  12. 12
    Gin & Tonic says:

    @Betty Cracker: Echoing that. We stayed at that lodge one year, for the last two nights they were open that season (facilities at the North Rim shut down in mid-October.) It was grand (sorry.) Greatly preferred over the South Rim, but much longer to get to.

  13. 13
    sherparick says:

    For a wonderful explanation of the geology of Yellowstone and Grand Teton, I can recommend John McPhee’s “Rising from the Plain.” https://www.nps.gov/parkhistory/online_books/grte/grte_geology/sec3.htm

  14. 14
    swiftfox says:

    As an NPS native easterner, I miss the 90’s when I worked out west. The development between Denver and Ft Collins has been expected and disappointing. There was a proposal to dam the Poudre River west of Ft Collins in the late 80s to provide water for Denver and I’d be surprised if that isn’t making the rounds again.

    Per Jeffro’s trip, I’d start at Billings because I’m partial to the zoo there.

  15. 15
    Gin & Tonic says:

    @Jeffro: I will chime in with a few of the other thoughtful comments. The distances are long, driving them is fatiguing, and you’re (I hope) not going on vacation to spend time in the car. Narrow things down and spend more time once you get someplace. As noted, if you get out of your car and walk even a half-mile, almost all the people disappear and your perspective changes completely. Your agenda strikes me as too ambitious.

    I’ll note, though, that in the last 25 years, we’ve never visited any of the Canadian or USian great national parks in summer. We typically go in Sep-Oct, when kids are back in school and there are fewer people visiting, so my views may be different.

  16. 16
    philpm says:

    We were planning on going to Yellowstone this year, but life’s realities set in and we opted to go to Nashville and Memphis instead, with a side trip to Great Smokey Mountains NP. We were only at the park for a 3-4 hours, but my 24 YO daughter finally got her first (and our first too) wild bear sighting (a 2-3 year old brown bear). My daughter did a dance, she was so excited.

    Those are some fantastic pics Cheryl. I can’t wait until I can finally see these things in person.

  17. 17
    Gin & Tonic says:

    @Jeffro: Oh, also, if you’re 62 or over, get the lifetime pass – I forget what it’s called. $10 and you get a pass to get in to every national park for the rest of your life. The world’s best bargain, and I’ve read speculation that it’s going away, but I’m too lazy to look up the details now.

  18. 18
    Cheryl Rofer says:

    @Gin & Tonic: The senior pass is $10 until August 28, and then it goes up to $80, which is still a bargain.

  19. 19
    eclare says:

    @Jeffro: Have not been to Zion, but I loved Bryce Canyon. Surreal landscape, gorgeous at sunrise. Was there and at Grand Canyon in October, both were packed. Smart to plan now.

  20. 20
    Gin & Tonic says:

    @Cheryl Rofer: Thanks for looking that up. I was basically unaware of this deal, but last year we stopped at some obscure and out-of-the-way wildlife management area, where I think the employees were just happy to see people, so there was plenty of time to chat. After this was explained I said “So I can pay the $4 admission and get in here this one time, or I can pay $10 and get in every national park and wildlife management area for the rest of my life?” Didn’t take long to decide. Still, I wouldn’t have forked out the $80 at that time. $10 is essentially “free.”

  21. 21
    ChrisS says:

    We did Yellowstone/Bozeman last year and had a fantastic time except staying in the Yellowstone campgrounds (although the park rangers provide an excellent nightly presentation). My wife and I are campers, but she is less enamored with hiking and very fearful of bears while I am less so (practice clean camping, pack bear spray, and know that bears don’t really want to be around you either). We spent a night in Bozeman, hiked and camped around the Gallatin Nat’l Forest, visited a buffalo jump, Lewis & Clark caverns, dipped my toes into the Three Forks 211 years, to the day, that L&C camped there. We then drove south to Yellowstone, visited Quake Lake, two nights in Yellowstone, Beartooth Highway to Red Lodge, and then hiking and camping in the Custer Nat’l Forest.

    Other tips: Like Cheryl wrote, be early! Many of the Yellowstone visitors are large bus tours that come in from outside of the park. Know that they generally meet for breakfast at their hotel, herd up, and go into the park. That takes time and means that from 6 to 9am, the park can be quiet. I took pictures of Old Faithful erupting on a glorious sunny morning just before 7 and there were maybe six other people there. Drive the Beartooth highway into Red Lodge, MT. It’s breathtaking scenery.

  22. 22
    mvr says:

    One of the coolest places in the world. Any time spent there is well-spent!

  23. 23
    Gin & Tonic says:

    @eclare: Zion is much larger and more varied than Bryce, which struck me as a one-trick pony. Surreal, yes, but I wouldn’t spend more than a day there. You can easily spend a week at Zion.

  24. 24
    jimmiraybob says:

    @Jeffro: As somewhat of an expert in the art of traveling this country, the first thing that I would recommend is splitting your itinerary – quality beats quantity. I’d recommend Yellostone-Teton NPs as a separate trip. If you can work in camping then that really increases the options. There are some great park service camp grounds that are pretty nice and not necessarily too crowded or noisy, especially off season. One of my favorites in Jackson Hole is the Gros Ventre CG. There’s good coffee in Kelly (5-10 minutes) and showers at the Alpine Climbers Ranch (~15 minutes).

    I was once in Grand Teton NP hitchhiking from one trailhead to another and a couple stopped to give me a ride. They had reservations at the Lodge in Yellowstone and had no time to spare to stop and explore and they were essentially just jamming through some of the most spectacular country in North America. I recommended that they stop at Jenny lake for at least a 1/2 day and take the boat across, hike a little bit and take the boat back but they couldn’t. There’s also an aerial tram in Teton Village that will get you high into alpine country – a little pricey.

    Dang it. Now you’ve got me thinking it’s time to take another vacation.

  25. 25
    Quinerly says:


  26. 26
    Viva BrisVegas says:

    @Jeffro: I don’t know if you’ll be going very near, but if you see a turnoff to Utah SR-128, I recommend you take it.

    It’s not very long and won’t take you far out of your way, but I found the experience of driving alongside white water rafters through the Colorado River canyon to be great fun.

    We drove from LA through to the Grand Canyon, then to Monument Valley, then up to SLC and on to Jackson. Then Yellowstone, Butte (the biggest hole in the West), Coeur d’Alene and Seattle. From there to Vancouver and back down to Weed California. Then to SF and Monterey and finally back to LA.

    The driving nearly gave me a nervous breakdown. Driving on the wrong side of the road turns off all the automatic functions that you normally use while driving and you have to pay attention all the time. It wears you down.

  27. 27
    frosty says:

    @Gin & Tonic: I agree. We did the big NPS and West Coast tour with the kids and spent two nights at Bryce and 0
    at Zion. I wish we’d done it the other way.

    PS It was a 5 week trip (from the east coast) and we didn’t see Yellowstone of Grand Teton. Went back the next year for both of those.

  28. 28
    Quinerly says:

    Did a 6 week drive about with Poco (the dog, not the band❤) in February and March. My beloved Santa Fe, Abiquiu, Albuquerque, Petrified Forest, Winslow, Grand Canyon, Sedona, Marble Canyon, Grand Staircase Escalante, Kanab, St. George, Zion, Bryce, Capitol Reef, Bluff, Canyon de Chelly, Bears Ears, Canyonlands….and what seemed like everything in between. 7500 miles, never over 1500 miles from St. Louis. I felt that Zion was too crowded. No desire to go back. Loved the snow at the Grand Canyon. Loved Northern AZ, the Bluff UT area and Canyon de Chelly. Itching to do it all again but would skip Kanab, UT.

  29. 29
    msdc says:

    We’re leaving for Yellowstone and Grand Teton tomorrow – thanks for the preview!

  30. 30
    tobie says:

    Just gorgeous! What an uplifting way to start the day.

    There are so many intrepid travelers on this site. I’m heading to Chaco Canyon in two weeks and then onto Santa Fe. Any recommendations of must-sees I might otherwise miss in Chaco Canyon?

  31. 31
    HinTN says:

    @Jeffro: That seems very busy. It’s a lot of driving and not much time for the special places you’re wanting to see. Zion requires two days just to walk around a bit. Stay in the lodge in the park for sure. Grand Teton is also worth the extra time. Perhaps put off the Grand Canyon until you can devote the appropriate time. Redneck’s BBQ in Kingman, AZ is good if you find yourself there.

  32. 32
    lethargytartare says:

    As another former summer worker from YNP, I’d second the notion that anything less than a week barely does Yellowstone/Teton justice. Between my 1st two visits as a youth, 2 summers working there, and 5 2-week vacations since (my wife and I like to go about every other year), I still haven’t seen more than 50% of what the park has to offer (though, to be fair, that’s largely because I spend whole days sitting on a bench waiting for Grand or Great Fountain to erupt).

    The thing about Yellowstone is you can plan a day, say “we’re gonna go see Old Faithful, then drive up to Mammoth Hot Springs” and then run into a herd of Bison on the road that makes the 45 minute drive take 3 hours, or see a bear or a wolf and find yourself standing on the roadside with binoculars for two to four hours, or spot a Ruddy Duck in Floating Island Lake and decide it’s a good place for a 3 hour picnic (YMMV).

    That said, the only reason I ever saw the park was because my Mom wanted to see Old Faithful on our way to Vancouver for the 1986 World’s Fair. We drove through the park in one day, saw Old Faithful, and moved on, but just driving through the park’s figure 8 road made us all fall in love. My parents actually went almost every year, sometimes twice a year, from 1987- 2007 or 10 or something crazy.

  33. 33
    Roger Moore says:

    Mid to late August sounds like a terrible time to do the Big 5 in Utah. I’ve had excellent luck with October. The crowds have definitely thinned out a lot by then, and the weather is much cooler. Doesn’t work so well for families with kids, though- which is part of the reason it’s good for those without.

  34. 34
    Quinerly says:

    Chaco is on my list for next year. Will need a full report!💚

  35. 35
    Roger Moore says:


    Have not been to Zion, but I loved Bryce Canyon. Surreal landscape, gorgeous at sunrise.

    Sunrise (or a bit before) is by far the best time to see Bryce from the rim. If you’re there and fit enough to hike at that altitude, I’d strongly recommend taking the time to do one of the hikes down into the hoodoos. It’s a completely different experience from looking down on them from the rim.

  36. 36
    Cheryl Rofer says:

    @tobie: Either way in to Chaco is an unpaved road. Be sure you’re ready for that. And the monsoon has started, so you are likely to find large mud puddles, more so on the south entrance road than the east. It’s a pretty incredible place.

  37. 37
    tobie says:

    @Quinerly: Okay-dokay! Will report back.

  38. 38
    tobie says:

    @Cheryl Rofer: Thanks so much for the tip about the monsoon. I hadn’t thought of that.

  39. 39
    TriassicSands says:


    We were only at the park for a 3-4 hours, but my 24 YO daughter finally got her first (and our first too) wild bear sighting (a 2-3 year old brown bear).

    Its color may have been brown, but its species was black bear (Ursus amercanus). Brown bears (Ursus arctos), which include grizzlies, aren’t found in the eastern US. It is misleading to call it a brown bear. It was a brown black bear. Note: there are also black brown bears. Different species. Unfortunately, we’ve chosen to name the two species of North American bears using the colors black and brown, but both species come in several different colors including the color that names the other species.

  40. 40
    Roger Moore says:


    I felt that Zion was too crowded. No desire to go back.

    Absolutely. It’s gotten so busy it’s almost impossible to enjoy it. I have largely given up on Zion- or the southern part of the park, at least- as a place to experience nature. I would strongly recommend anyone who wants to visit great place in Utah to go to Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument instead.

  41. 41
    TriassicSands says:


    Have you been to Chaco Canyon before?

  42. 42
    eclare says:

    @Roger Moore: Yes, we did about a five mile hike each day, really getting into the park. Definitely felt the altitude as in Memphis we have air you can scoop with your hand.

  43. 43
    Barbara says:

    Great pictures. We stayed at Grand Teton in 2014 and made a one day trip to Yellowstone to do half of the Grand Circle tour. I could have stayed at Grand Teton all summer. We also hit Santa Fe, Arches in Moab, UT and the Badlands and Mt. Rushmore in South Dakota. I don’t remember the roads, but they were dictated by electric car charger placement. I know what comments mean about the heat. We walked all the way to the Arches and it is a long way out there, and hot. If it gets too hot, you can try seeing the area by water — we took a raft on the Colorado River (which runs through Moab), as well as the Snake River (lots of tours out of Jackson, Wyoming, but the NP tours are very tame, so you need to go outside the park if you are looking for adventure). We also took a boat tour of the lake, which went to an island, and a cook out that had very high quality food. If you are tired from traveling, this is an especially good way to start the trip, because you get a lot of information on the ride and you don’t have to do any work to get an overview of the park. Badlands were great, but honestly, a bit of a one trick pony compared to Yellowstone or Grand Teton. We did see bighorn sheep right on the roadway. Wow.

  44. 44
    Lee says:

    Took the family on a Trip to YNP & GTNP 3 summers ago. Drove from Dallas to Jackson Hole. I completely agree 287 is the way to go. I picked it up right outside of Dallas. I took the bypass around Denver (expensive but worth it).

    I think I enjoyed GTNP a bit more than YNP simply because it was less crowded. It also had the bonus of everything you did, you did with the backdrop of the majestic Tetons. For us the place we enjoyed the most (food, people, activites) was Signal Mountain Lodge in GTNP.

  45. 45
    Barbara says:

    @lethargytartare: LOL. Your description describes our day at Yellowstone almost to a tee! I did insist that we get out and hike for around an hour, and you don’t have to get very far down the path to be basically alone. Most people only do it by car. Also, we learned almost instantly that a “traffic jam” meant get out your binoculars and start looking for the wildlife. In one big field we saw a family of three bears and a bunch of bison (at the other end). I felt like GT had more accessible hikes, and I did a long hike up a canyon (like 7 miles) on my own because my husband chose that summer to BREAK HIS TOE and by Wyoming he was dying so he went to the infirmary in town. Broken toe also meant that I did almost all the driving.

    Most joyful memory: driving south from Denver to El Raton, NM at night, watching meteor showers almost all the way once we were far enough south of Denver, listening to Pete Seeger with my daughter, after she informed me that her Smithsonian internship job was going through his collected papers after he died and starting to organize them.

  46. 46
    Quinerly says:

    @Roger Moore:
    I always do my NM trips in February…no crowds, cheap rentals. I had planned that last big trip for 9 months figuring Grand Canyon would be less crowded in February (stayed in Cameron, rates were 1/2 price and go up 3/1). It startled me how crowded the Grand Canyon was…can’t even imagine what it would be like in tourist season. Bus loads of Asian tourists. Hit Zion in March and didn’t factor in spring breakers in my plan. Downright unpleasant. Canyon de Chelly was essentially empty and just starting to turn green in March. Loved the Bluff area…Valley of the Gods (empty) and Monument Valley (getting crowded, very touristy, Europeans). Loved Escante, Utah and that area. Capitol Reef NP is underappreciated, in my opinion.

  47. 47
    Quinerly says:

    @Cheryl Rofer:
    How would Chaco be the end of February?

  48. 48
    opiejeanne says:

    @Cheryl Rofer: We just did this trip from Seattle, got home on Saturday. I’m still sorting our pictures.
    If you come from Bozeman or Billings and you take I-90 you will pass through Crow Agency and right past the Little Bighorn Battlefield Memorial. It’s worth a stop but it was brain-killing hot there on July 5th and we couldn’t stay outside for more than a few minutes at a time, and we used to live in a place that routinely hit 105-112 every summer. After 105 it’s just too hot.
    There are horses near the “Indian Camp” (the official signage calls it that) and they look exactly like the horses the Native Americans ride in every western movie. The road continues into land that’s privately owned and they are on the road and in the fields on either side, The land is the Crow Reservation.
    We took a case of water with us.
    We saw honey-colored black bear just outside Jackson, inside the fence of the Elk Preserve; he was running like mad to get away from the people watching him from the bike path. Young adult. Later the same day we saw a little black cub crossing a dirt road in Grand Teton National Forest as we came around a bend. We missed seeing the mom and weren’t real close, and had a long discussion about just what we did see.
    We also saw elk and mule deer (huge!) and pelicans and a lone sandhill crane. The pelicans were in Pelican Lake and Pelican Creek. What we saw a lot of were bison. I don’t remember why we don’t call them buffalo. We didn’t see them at first, and then they were everywhere. We have wonderful pictures of them as well as several that are disturbing because of the people in the photos with them.

  49. 49
    Waratah says:

    We camped at Grand Teton National Park and spent a couple of days driving through Yellowstone. This was early June and the most excitement we had was guided boat ride in the lake when we almost came between a mother moose and her two baby’s swimming across the lake. We waited quietly until they crossed.

  50. 50
    tobie says:

    @TriassicSands: This trip will be the first time. I’ve been to Santa Fe and Taos before but never ventured elsewhere in the state. Am so looking forward to this vacation.

  51. 51
    opiejeanne says:

    @Jeffro: There is a wonderful gentle raft trip that starts in Yellowstone on the Snake River and floats down through Grand Teton NP. Trying to remember the name of the company. We didn’t get to do that but people who did said it was worth the money. The guide was knowledgeable about park history and they saw lots of birds and animals.
    Barker-Ewing is the one we heard the most about.

  52. 52
    philpm says:

    @TriassicSands: You are right, it was a black bear. Not sure why I put brown there.

  53. 53
    Ian G. says:

    Did Yellowstone and Grand Teton together 4 years ago. It was a dry summer and there were some fires in Yellowstone that obscured some vistas, but other than that it was a wonderful trip. Wildlife was amazing. I saw or heard: bison, elk, pronghorn, coyote, black bear, marten, bald eagle, golden eagle, peregrine falcon, great horned owl, and probably others I’m not thinking of.

    And Yellowstone is so very different than Grand Teton, despite the two parks being so close. You get such a different experience in each.

  54. 54
    opiejeanne says:

    @ChrisS: We came to Grand Teton NP from Buffalo (was there for Longmire Days) and through the Wind River Canyon. Beautiful drive, breathtaking. And the three tunnels cut from the rock in 1922 which was an amazing feat. They came in by train on the other side of the river in mid-winter so that they could cross to survey for the road.

  55. 55
    Quinerly says:

    I really love the El Morro/Ramah/Zuni Pueblo area and Chama/Tierra Amarillo/Abiquiu areas. Great back roads. Don’t know how much driving you are planning on. Jemez Springs area is nice too.

  56. 56
    Tazj says:

    I’ve never been to that part of the country. I appreciate the beautiful pictures.

  57. 57
    Cheryl Rofer says:

    @Quinerly: Northern New Mexico is chilly the end of February. But usually the spring winds haven’t started yet. It can snow, and juniper pollination season may be starting. If you have any respiratory allergies, you may be sensitive to our overwhelming loads of juniper pollen, which lasts for approximately the month of March.

    The weather can be good in February, and I have done short trips, but I have the advantage of being here and being able to decide on short notice when the weather is nice.

  58. 58
    jimmiraybob says:

    Also too by the way, most of Yellowstone NP is set inside a system of volcanic calderas that are remnants of regular and super volcanic activity with a roughly 600,000 year periodicity. It’s been about 600,00 years. Better hurry & check forecasts. :)

  59. 59
    Quinerly says:

    @Cheryl Rofer:
    Been spending the month of February in your state since 2011 (last year only 12 days)Spent time in Raton, Taos, Chama, Aztec, Farmington in February on several trips. Poco and I were at Ship Rock at sunrise in January, 2016…we were the only ones for miles, road rather muddy. Just never have gotten to Chaco. More curious about tourists. I would imagine pretty dead people wise. I’m sure the road could still be pretty muddy from snow.

  60. 60
    opiejeanne says:

    @Viva BrisVegas: The Canadians drive on the right, same as the US. Are you from Australia or GB?

  61. 61
    TriassicSands says:


    A friend of mine used to say “Chaco Canyon is one of the five most cosmic places on Earth.”

    Those aren’t the words I would use to describe it, but it is among my favorite places on the planet. I’ve been there many times, at all times of the year. I realize your own timing may have constraints, but my favorite time of year to visit Chaco is in the winter. I’ve spent more than one Christmas and New Year in the canyon and it can be bitter cold, but having a place like that to oneself is indescribable.

    If you are physically able, try to take a hike to a backcountry site. The number of people drops sharply once you’ve left the main canyon. Another thing you can do, if it is still permitted, is get up before sunrise, if you are camping in the canyon, and be out among the ruins when the sun comes up. It’s been years since I was last there, and movement and access were tightening even years ago — that is due in part to the number of visitors, but also, as always, to visitor irresponsibility. In the seventies, you could roam across the unexcavated mounds and kneel and gaze at the endless number of pot shards and other artifacts. Everything had to be left whee it lay, and collecting, even something like the beautiful arrowhead I saw, was criminal. Look but don’t touch is a good rule. You can’t do that anymore.

    Chaco is a place for quiet reflection.

    Bandelier National Monument is another site in that area that is wonderful and well worth a visit. The ruins are very different from those in Chaco and the monument doesn’t require the long drive on rough dirt roads that is both the best and worst thing about a visit to Chaco — bad, because you have to drive it; good because it limits the crowds, at least to some extent. If you have the time, see Bandelier too.

    Oh, and my friend was right, Chaco really is “cosmic.”

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    opiejeanne says:

    @Roger Moore:

    I would strongly recommend anyone who wants to visit great place in Utah to go to Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument instead.

    And go soon, before they “unmonument” it. They’ve been cutting funding for that place for years because Utah politicians want control of the land,.

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    Quinerly says:

    Loved the entire Grand Staircase Escalante and Vermilion Cliffs area. Breathtaking.

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    Cheryl Rofer says:

    @Quinerly: Yes, probably not many tourists. February is an okay month, better than when the winds start later.

  65. 65
    Quinerly says:

    @Cheryl Rofer:

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    opiejeanne says:

    @Quinerly: Didn’t you post photos? I’ve seen photos and I think they were from you. It was created as a place for scientists to work and study, I think during Clinton’s presidency. They’ve gone from lots of scientists down to a handful. I read a poignant retirement statement by the director not long before we left on this grand adventure we just took.

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    opiejeanne says:

    @Quinerly: Vermillion Cliffs! Back in the days of film cameras, we visited Zion, Bryce, and various other sites in Utah including Red Bluff, which isn’t as dramatic as Vermillion Cliffs, but still gorgeous.
    When I got my photos developed I couldn’t find the pictures of the cliffs at first because whoever developed them didn’t believe the color he was seeing and adjusted so everything looked the same. Ugh.

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    J R in WV says:


    Visit some of the “other” pueblos in Chaco canyon that Pueblo Bonito which also is worth a couple of days. One of my favorite places, so ancient and strange. There are disagreements about the history and culture, great books in the park HQ shop, the building techniques are amazing.

    If you can, spend time getting up to the canyon rim and hike on the mesa. I think you would be able to find the Chaco Roads between Chaco Canyon and other contemporaneous centers, perhaps for seeing bonfires marking the night of some ceremony. Even though there are hundreds of rooms in the various pueblos, they think only a few dozen people lived there full time, as there were only a handful of cooking hearths.

    I have a bookcase full of books on ancient SW cultures, it is an amazing place. Enjoy, stay hydrated, take everything you need because going in and out is difficult, the only access road is unimproved and slow driving.

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    Jeffro says:

    These tips (and the memories, too) that you all have shared are very helpful, thank you!

    We’re not much for camping, but we do like to hike around the national parks we visit, so plenty of time will be built in for that. It helps that we are early-morning folks, so it should be easier to avoid some of the crowds you all have described.

    Thanks again!

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    Quinerly says:

    I was on that trip with Poco when Alain started the “On the Road” threads. Posted something almost everyday for those 6 weeks. Really enjoyed that Northern AZ area after we left the Grand Canyon.

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    Miki says:

    @sylvainsylvain: I worked in the Lake Lodge laundry during the summer of ’73 (shit – that was 45 years ago. Ouch). We worked 6 days a week for peanuts (out of which they deducted room and board). Got quite a bit of hiking/touristing in during that one day off and after work (Elephant Back Trail has a magnificent view of the lake – http://www.americansouthwest.n.....iew_l.html). We drove back to Minneapolis the scenic way – saw Devil’s Tower, Mt. Rushmore, the Badlands, the Black Hills. A nice way to see the West.

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    Ohio Mom says:

    I was at Yellowstone about 25 years ago. I kept wondering what the first peoples who came upon the geysers thought — what did they think was happening, it is a very weird landscape.

    When we go there, we know what it will look like, and at least a little bit about what is going on underground. But to just see in the distance steam come out of the ground?

    Obviously the area was discovered several times over, by Native Americans migrating through and white explorers. All of them had to be blown away.

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    Barbara says:

    @Ohio Mom: Yes, but there are geysers and other geothermal pools in many places. Iceland, of course, is probably the world capital for geothermal concentration, but Hot Springs, VA and Berkeley Springs, WV, to name two, were well-known in the 18th century.

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    jimmiraybob says:

    Another also too, anyone traveling to or from the Yellowstone north entrance should look for the “45th Parallel of Latitude Halfway Between Equator and North Pole” sign and be prepared to stop at Boiling River for a dip (ranges from hot to cold depending on where you put yourself). Easy access and parking and earlier or later is probably gooder. Speaking of travel to the north entrance, the dining hall at Mammoth Hot Springs is good – sitting in Art Deco surroundings and watching the elk heard outside is too good. Oh hell, may as well see if the hotel has one of the cabins available out back – a bit spartan but clean.

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    prostratedragon says:

    This post and the wonderful photos have inspired me to get one of those senior passes. Despite some mobility challenges, I can still hope to use it a few times I think.

    Regarding bicycling out West, there’s an interesting story about a buffalo soldier bicycle corps that were attached to the 25th Infantry at Ft. MIssoula. Their first major training run was an 800-mile round trip to Yellowstone.

    Bicycle Corps gallery at the Ft. Missoula museum page

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    Ohio Mom says:

    @Barbara: Yes but did a band of Native Americans just passing through know about those other places?

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    tobie says:

    @TriassicSands: @J R in WV: Sorry for getting back to all of you so late. You folks are a goldmine! Spousal unit is not one for roughing it but I am and I think the compromise we’ll choose is to get up at the crack of dawn to see as much as possible, even if we have to drive quite a ways. I’ll spend the coming week reading up the history of the southwest. Amazing that, as J R in WV says, so few people lived in such a large dwelling complex. The pictures I’ve seen of what they built…it just makes you shake your head in wonder.

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    tobie says:

    @Quinerly: Thanks. I’ve noted all these areas, too.

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    Dmbeaster says:

    @Jeffro: Hey, traveled extensively to the places on your itinerary. Would be happy to give advice.

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    Dmbeaster says:

    In terms of Red Rock Country destinations, which are all amazing, I will add Capital Reef. After Zion, its my favorite area. Drive route 12, Burr Trail. Hike Calf Creek Falls and State Park, Muley Twist (upper). Drive the back roads, and Cathedral Valley, and the Temples of the Sun and Moon. Just no end of stuff.

    Yellowstone and Tetons are amazing. Take the ferry and do Cascade Creek and Falls. Too many places to describe in Yellowstone.

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    Barbara says:

    @Ohio Mom: I don’t know. I try to imagine the first people who saw Niagara Falls thought — probably not printable as they came upon it. Or maybe the Grand Canyon. There are a lot of amazing geological formations in the world.

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    lethargytartare says:


    We’re not much for camping, but we do like to hike around the national parks we visit, so plenty of time will be built in for that. It helps that we are early-morning folks, so it should be easier to avoid some of the crowds you all have described.

    The hike to Fairy Falls in Yellowstone isn’t too bad (or wasn’t when I was in my 20s anyway) and the fall is beautiful and CLOSE. Like, you can stand directly under the 200 foot drop if you don’t mind the cold close.

    They were doing some trail construction going on last year, but it’s worth checking. Easily one of my 10 favourite things in the park. The other 9 are all geysers. :)

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    opiejeanne says:

    @Quinerly: I remember. I got to read most of them.

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    Quinerly says:

    It was great having all of you riding along.

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    SgrAstar says:

    @tobie: Chaco is haunting and so beautiful. There are several good books about it- we read up on it before we went, so we were somewhat prepared. On the down side, it was staggeringly hot, which really affects your desire to explore. I actually got sick from the heat- an unwelcome first for me. Have a great time out there!

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    Cowgirl in the Sandi says:

    Late to the thread, but a couple of fantastic places we visited were Bisti Badlands about 40 miles from Farmington NM. The badlands are administered by the BLM (Bureau of Land Management), are free to enter. When we were there, there were about 6 other people and a VAST area covered with hoodoos, egg shaped rocks and other strange formations. Really otherworldly!

    Also cool was Antelope canyon near Page Arizona. It is a slot canyon on Navajo land so you have to sign up for a tour – the formations were just amazing! If you go, take a small (6 or so) tour and go early or late as otherwise, there will be busloads of Asian tourists.

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    Ohio Mom says:

    @Barbara: I agree.
    And Niagra Falls was even more impressive before some of the flow was diverted to make electricity, and the American falls started crumbling.

    I guess I am a little jealous of those who came before us. It is hard to be totally surprised nowadays when so much of the earth has been photographed and filmed. We have even seen pictures from the moon.

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    mskitty says:

    Still seeing as many busloads of Asian tourists at Yellowstone as there have been? I didn’t go last year, or this one …. first lacunae since 2005.

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    opiejeanne says:

    @mskitty: There were a lot of them in Yellowstone this week, and some of the drivers were less than courteous in the pullouts where buffalo had been spotted.

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