Thursday, July 5, 2012

Our Yellowstone Vacation - Day 1

Prelude: We had originally planned on a Yellowstone trip for September of 2009 as a treat for my 40th birthday. From Christmas of 2008 to the early spring of 2009 I had done a lot of research and made all the reservations except for flights. Then the economy finally caught up with my company and furloughs/layoffs were announced. I was fortunate to avoid a layoff but several weeks of furloughs really cut into our finances and our travel plans had to be cancelled. From that point we made some budget adjustments and began putting money aside every month for our vacation fund. 2010 passed by without any furloughs but then more were announced for 2011 (and more layoffs occurred). Even so, our vacation fund was growing and by the fall of 2011 we knew we would have plenty for a Yellowstone vacation. We also had enough Delta Skymiles for two free tickets and that really helped our budget. I dug out my books and also ordered the latest edition of Yellowstone Treasures and planned a spring trip for 2012. By the end of October I felt I had a good plan in place and made all the reservations. At first we couldn’t get all the places we wanted but I kept checking back and eventually found some openings. It’s amazing how quickly things book up in advance! Once the reservations were done I spent a lot of my free time reading and re-reading all my books, looking over online discussion boards, and obsessing over our itinerary. As the trip got closer I eventually dropped the idea of creating a detailed itinerary and decided to just get there and go with the flow. That was a good decision as we would find out during our trip. I had a list of things I wanted to see and photograph but if I didn’t get to them, well no big deal. A little about ourselves: my wife & I have been married for 11 years. She is originally from Taiwan and I met her over there while doing some work for my previous employer. I started to get into photography about 6 years ago after getting my first DSLR (which was purchased for astrophotography but I later learned to enjoy daytime photography much more). Eventually I upgraded my camera and my wife started to get into photography using my older camera. We enjoy hiking in the north Georgia mountains and visiting the many waterfalls found there. We also enjoy motorsports photography at Road Atlanta (not far from our house). Besides photography we enjoy eating out at the various Asian restaurants in our area and do a lot of cooking at home. As far as photography equipment I shoot with a Canon 5DMKII and my wife has a 7D. We both have the Canon 70-200mm f/2.8 MKII lens with 2X MKIII teleconverters. I also use the Canon 17-40mm, 100mm Macro, Zeiss 50mm Makro-Planar, and Samyang 14mm f/2.8 prime. My wife also has the Canon 10-22mm, 60mm Macro, and 28mm f/1.8.And we both have various filters like a CPL and multiple ND filters. We started working out much harder at the beginning of this year to get in shape for the higher altitude and improve our cardio level. Back in 2010 we each lost about 30 lbs but didn’t work out so much in 2011. We both did well, eventually getting to the point of walking our entire neighborhood 4 times a week at a fast pace (about 4 miles total of hilly terrain). I hurt a ligament in my knee about 2 weeks before the trip but it was pain-free by the time we departed.

 Day 1 – June 8, 2012 – Friday: Up at 3AM. Too excited to sleep any more. After a shower, final packing, and some Chinese steamed bread for breakfast we are out the door at 5AM on our way to the Atlanta airport. By 6AM we are in the airport, bags checked, and breezed through security. Still have 2 hours until our 8AM flight but it’s better to beat Atlanta traffic and relax a while in the airport. Our first flight to Salt Lake City is totally full but fortunately right on time. It’s amazing that a rather large aircraft like the 767 has such pitiful overhead storage space. We are in Zone 1 thanks to American Express so there are no issues finding space for both our camera backpacks. We only have 40 minutes for our connection in SLC and make the long walk to the other gate with plenty of time to spare. The next flight to Jackson Hole is also right on schedule and very quick. Only about 35 minute’s flight time. I picked seats on the right side of the plane, hoping we would pass the airport and turn around for a landing from the north. We did just that, allowing a great view of the Tetons from the plane prior to landing. Getting off the plane was almost surreal with the Tetons looming large in the background. It was one of the most beautiful things I have ever seen. It was warm when we arrived – the warmest we would experience until our last day. Baggage claim took a while but at least our bags made it. We got right in the Emerald Aisle line for National and were off in no time with our rental – a Chevy Traverse. We immediately headed south to Jackson to do some shopping at Albertson’s. Most everything seemed overpriced but what else are you gonna do? We bought a hard sided cooler, bread, PB&J, Nutella, oranges, apples, lettuce, sandwich meat, mayo, diet Mtn Dew, shower stuff, and a few other things I can’t remember. We bought bear spray there too but later realized it was way overpriced compared to most other places. Had some trouble with my Amex card and after a phone call to customer support all was good and we were on our way back north. We stopped by the visitor’s center at Moose Junction to get a pass and look around. We bought the $50 annual pass since it was the same price as two week’s entry. On the way north we made a few stops at Mormon Row and turnouts along the highway.
The views were amazing no matter where you were! We checked in at Colter Bay cabins and spent some time unpacking and organizing things. The cabin was bigger than most cabins in Yellowstone and originated from the early 1900’s when it was used for a worker’s camp for the original Jackson Lake Dam. There was another cabin attached on the other side of the bathroom but we weren’t bothered too much by noise from the neighbors. The shower had plenty of hot water and great water pressure, although the shower stall was a bit cramped for me. The floors were always ice cold so it’s good to keep some thick socks next to the shower when you get out. There were only a few electrical outlets in the cabin and we needed to unplug some lamps to make room for battery chargers, cell phone chargers, and our electric water pot. That water pot was one of the best things we brought with us. In the mornings we used it for coffee with Starbucks Via instant coffee. In the evenings we would occasionally make instant noodles. Cabin @ Colter Bay:
We were hungry for a real dinner so we decided to try out the Ranch House restaurant which was right next to the cabin area. It was decent food but overpriced for the portions you get (and better than most food in Yellowstone). Bison Flank Steak:
Grilled Trout:
After dinner we headed out at 7PM and drove down the Teton Park Rd. We took the road up Signal Mountain until the first overlook and saw some elk along the way. We got out at the overlook and were attacked by a swarm of mosquitoes. The view at the overlook wasn’t that great and the mosquitoes were unbearable so we ran back to the car and made our way back down the road. As we turned back north we saw some cars pulled over – a small bear jam! We caught a quick glimpse of a black bear’s butt as he/she headed back into the forest. No time to get a photo but at least we saw something. At the Jackson Lake junction we turned back towards the north and immediately hit another jam. It was a bull moose on the east side of the road before the Willow Flats turnout. That was neat! After a few photos we headed back to Colter Bay for some much needed sleep.