By: Georgette Diamandis
This week I leave Cody, Wyoming and head west through the incredible mountain scenery on Chief Joseph Highway to Cooke City, Montana, a former silver mining town. This drive is 80 miles from Cody to the gates of Yellowstone and has been called the most scenic drive in America by Teddy Roosevelt, and more recently, by Charles Kuralt. It hasn’t changed in one hundred years. In Cooke City (a good place to find accommodation just outside of the park), we transferred to a 1938 refurbished historic yellow bus operated by the park concessionaire Xanterra resort, which runs all accommodations in Yellowstone. A three-hour tour of Yellowstone costs $67 for an adult. The top comes off when the weather is nice and it is an awesome way to experience the park. For more information, visit TravelYellowstone.com.
THE SERENGETI OF THE NORTH
We continued along Chief Joseph Highway and entered Yellowstone National Park, founded in 1872 as the world’s first national park. The bus drove through the Lamar Valley, called the Serengeti of the North, where we viewed scores of bison with their calves, elk, and bighorn sheep — the largest collection of roaming wildlife in the lower 48 states. The bison were nearly extinct in the wild but now there are thousands protected in Yellowstone. In the distance, a black bear could be seen foraging. Gone are the days when bear mooched food from cars and could be found everywhere along the road. Now the bears are really wild and there’s a saying: “A fed bear is a dead bear,” because nuisance animals are removed. Even one encounter with human food can change a wild bear into a dependent animal, which is why the rangers are adamant that all food and waste be properly disposed.
A DRIVE AROUND THE PARK
The East Yellowstone loop is a figure eight and 256 miles long. We drove it in two days with an overnight at the Old Faithful Snow Lodge. Ninety percent of all visitors to Yellowstone never get out of their car! It’s a shame, because America’s oldest national park is a colossal two million acres and you could spend weeks meandering the backcountry. A permit is easily obtained if you want to camp and experience the park away from the main road. Click here or call (307) 344-2160. OhRanger.com is an interactive site with answers to questions about national parks.
Our first stop in the park was Roosevelt Village, the first cabins built for the working class vacationers of America. Then we went south to Artist’s Point, which provides a fantastic view of the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, made famous by Thomas Moran’s painting now on view at Buffalo Bill Historical Center. The vastness of the park is apparent here, where you can see the Yellowstone River cascading down amidst thousands of acres of unspoiled wilderness.
Next, we looped northwest to Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel, location of the park headquarters. We toured the grand old hotel built in 1937. This hotel is one of two that are open year round in the park. We had lunch in the traditional dining room, where delicious modern fare like a vegetarian Reuben, bison burger, and black bean burger are served. Just off of the lobby is the map room, designed by architect Robert Reamer, who is famous for the Old Faithful Inn, which was built at the turn of the twentieth century. More than thirty years later he also updated Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel and The Lake Yellowstone Hotel. We visited the gift shop at Mammoth, which features sustainable and recycled gifts in accordance with the greening of Yellowstone. The Yellowstone Park Foundation is working to reduce the carbon footprint of all who use the park, both visitors and employees, using innovative ideas. I was intrigued to find out that the plastic cutlery used in coffee shops is made from biodegradable cornstarch. Recycling containers are everywhere and the park composts more than half of its trash. Also, many park vehicles are hybrids.
OLD FAITHFUL SNOW LODGE
From Mammoth we went to Upper Geyser Basin, home of the Old Faithful geyser, the Old Faithful Inn, and the new Old Faithful Snow Lodge – a modern version of its predecessor, where I checked in. My room was stark, clean and cabin-like. On the bed sat a stuffed toy bison and a card that said if I purchased it, the profits would support Yellowstone Park Foundation. Well that was a no-brainer! The bathroom had white tile to go along with the simple theme. The shampoo containers were also made from biodegradable cornstarch and the soap had a large hole in the middle to eliminate the unused center of traditional soap. The lobby was cozy with many rough beams and dimmed golden lamps with forest motifs. Outside the building, the lanterns are equipped with special �dark sky� fixtures to minimize distraction from the gorgeous night sky. This hotel is only accessible by snow coach in the winter. To learn about winter programs and packages such as Nordic skiing, snowmobiling, and wolf spotting activities, visit TravelYellowstone.com.
OLD FAITHFUL INN
I quickly walked out of the Snow Lodge past the visitor’s center, which will be opened in 2010, to the boardwalks (made of recycled plastic milk jugs) to see the famous Old Faithful geyser. It was dusk, and the crowds were minimal since the season had not quite started. I had heard so many stories about this famous geyser from uncles and friends, that I couldn’t wait until morning to see it. It went off minutes after I got there and I wasn’t disappointed. No matter how high the geyser gushes, it is really a thrill to see this mystifying act of nature. It spouts an average of 4,000 gallons of water each time!
DID YOU KNOW? Yellowstone has the most thermal activity of any other place in the world.
When it had died down, I walked the hundred yards into the lobby of the Old Faithful Inn. I was awed by the 90-foot ceiling and seven stories of tiered gnarly pine interior balconies. Built in 1903, architect Robert Reamer’s ingenious design was meant to echo being in a forest with its dappled light coming from the small windows and dim lights. Reamer’s work inspired a new genre of camp architecture. I went to the second floor and joined my colleagues for a drink on the open interior balcony. We viewed the guests down below and the mammoth stone fireplace, which is the focal point of the lobby. On the adjacent outdoor deck, I could see the famous geyser. The modestly priced rooms of the Old Faithful Inn have not changed much in 100 years, simple and rustic, with shared bathrooms down the hall.
DINNER AT THE OLD FAITHFUL LODGE
Dinner here is a wonderful experience, but if you’re not staying in the lodge, a two-month advance reservation is required. The interior of the restaurant is as special as the lobby with rustic pine beams and woven bark furniture. I especially liked the green glass bear murals that separate the bar. The buffet costs $30, or you can order from the menu, like I did. The maple salmon was memorable, as was the iceberg wedge with ranch dressing. I shared an apple tart with caramel sauce for a perfect ending.
BACK TO THE SNOW LODGE
After a long travel day, we walked across the parking lot to the Snow Lodge and went to bed surrounded by giant pines under the dark starry sky. The lodge was so quiet and peaceful. In the morning, breakfast was hearty oatmeal at the Snow Lodge restaurant.
BUBBLING MUD POTS AND BEACON BLANKET HORSES After breakfast I walked back towards the Old Faithful Inn on to the mile-long boardwalk to check out the other geysers and bubbling mud pots. I stopped in century-old Hamilton’s gift shop for some souvenirs and hot coffee, as it was a cool day in June. We boarded the historic yellow bus and headed southeast for West Thumb geyser, photographed many times for its brilliant turquoise blue to lime green to gold appearance, almost inviting one to dive in and be boiled alive! As we drove around the park, I was amazed to see the variety of landscapes, from tall lodge pole pine forests to arid shrubbery to a vast lake. We went to Lake Yellowstone and had lunch at yet another stately hotel, the yellow Lake Yellowstone Hotel, built in 1894. It reminded me of our old family vacation spot, The Ocean House in Watch Hill, Rhode Island, also yellow and built around the same time. The ceilings are lofty and the large dining room is elegant and impressive. Our ride home was relaxing, but I was a little sad; I didn’t want to leave Yellowstone or the historic yellow bus.
BUFFALO BILL SCENIC BYWAY
The scenery changed once again to huge cliffs and volcanic mountain ranges. At Pahaska Tepee, Buffalo Bill’s hunting lodge, we met tour guide Bob Richards who runs Grub Steak Tours. He hopped on our van to give us a private tour. Bob’s grandfather knew Buffalo Bill and he knows everything about the area, pointing out wildlife like bighorn sheep, hawks and white-tailed deer, along with naming the numerous rock formations on the way back to Cody. We went through the Wapiti valley and passed dude ranches along the journey.
My short trip to Yellowstone was coming to an end. It was extraordinary and its effect on me profound. I will treasure these memories until my next excursion to America’s first national park. Something tells me this will be soon, as the call of the wild is beckoning … or is it perhaps a Yellowstone gray wolf?
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Hi, I am Georgette, a writer and artist (here’s my website) based in Connecticut. I am also Johnny Jet�s older sister, who quite possibly ignited his first spark of interest in traveling to exotic places, when at the impressionable age of 14, he saw my trip to Australia last three years! Whether skiing in the mountains, snorkeling in the tropics, or exploring faraway cities, I am always game for traveling and the privilege of writing for my baby brother’s website JohnnyJet.com. Of course, coming home to my husband Cam, our dog Baci, and three cats – Ace, Arrow and Wizard – is great, too!
- Cooke City
- Xanterra resort
- Buffalo Bill Historical Center
- Yellowstone Park Foundation
- Pahaska Tepee
- Grub Steak Tours
- Georgette�s Blog
- Georgette�s Paintin
NOTE: This trip was sponsored by Buffalo Bill’s Cody/Yellowstone Country.