Wednesday 29th May, 2013
Cody to Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming (143miles/229km)
We had to complete a couple of purchases before we left Cody this morning so we did those and then found some breakfast at a restaurant, by which time it was nearly 11am. It was raining lightly today and very cool – only about 4-5c as we headed off to the north west towards Yellowstone National Park, the first National Park in the world – established in 1872 by President Ulysses S. Grant. About 8 miles out of Cody is the Buffalo Bill Dam. When it was finished in 1910 it was the highest dam in the world and was the prototype for Hoover Dam. The dam spans a very narrow gorge that the Shoshone River flows through and it was built to supply irrigation to the arid country downstream from this area and it opened up many thousands of acres of farmland to crops like wheat. These crops are still grown there. We had a look at the visitor centre – there is a visitor centre for every imaginable thing in the USA and they each have a gift shop selling items related to the particular attraction and area. However this one was interesting as you are transported from your car in the parking area to the visitor centre in an electric golf cart – it was funny being whisked along by this transport – at least we didn’t get (very) wet. We then drove upwards through the Shoshone River Valley towards Yellowstone NP. When we reached the park gates, the lady on duty there warned us about the winter conditions we were about to experience in the park – snow, icy roads, rain, sleet and hail – a bit different from what we are used to. As we climbed, there was snow by the side of the road and then it began to snow, affording us some wonderful photo opportunities as we drove, stopping a number of times to record the scenes. The Yellowstone River also was by our side, the same river that runs through Billings where we stayed a couple of days ago. It eventually runs into the Missouri River which joins the Mississippi, so it’s an important river in American history – apparently Lewis and Clark, the early American explorers, had mapped it as early as 1803. We were having fun, getting in and out of the car to look at all the fumaroles, mud volcanoes and steam that was rising everywhere. It rained steadily pretty much all day and sometimes snowed (not much). We even saw a grizzly bear part of the way up a hill as well as a number of bison. Towards 5pm, we reached the lookouts to Yellowstone Falls that have a number of very spectacular viewpoints. Although the falls themselves are not exceptionally high (maybe only 30 metres), the river drops into an amazingly beautiful canyon that is between 800 – 1,000 feet (250-350metres) deep. Suffice to say it was an amazing sight and we really enjoyed the sights. We finally arrived at the Old Faithful Inn which is over 100 years old – our destination for the next two nights. We were booked into an old fashioned room there in the original part of the property. Before we checked out the room, the Old Faithful geyser was due to spout so we went out to have a look at it and on time it did its thing and was amazing. Every 45 minutes or so it sprays scalding hot water and steam about 50-60 feet in the air for about a minute and everybody takes photos. By this time, it had stopped raining and was almost fine, still cool though. We then went our room for an aperitif and afterwards to dinner in the restaurant. We had quite a nice dinner there and then to bed after having a stroll around the ground floor of the building and admiring the construction.
Thursday 30th May, 2013
Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming (37miles/59km)
After sleeping in the Old Faithful Inn last night, we had breakfast in the restaurant and then went on a 9:30am tour of this historic hotel. It was built in 1903-04 and now has 330 rooms and is almost always full during the season May to October (they are currently taking 2015 bookings). The Inn architect was quite a young man (we forget his name) – in his 30s. The building took 11 months to complete. It is totally made of wood which was installed complete with bark. Nowadays it has 2 newer wings, one completed in 1927 and the other in 1934 or 1935. The original part is modelled on a forest – the ceiling height in the lobby is 72 feet – the average height of a pine tree. Close to the ceiling is built ‘The crow’s nest’ – a construction like a tree house – sadly these days no-one is allowed up there. The stone fireplace chimney in the lobby is huge and has a large fireplace on each of the 4 sides. On one side are the original fire pokers etc. and even a metal corn popper. The windows are placed in a haphazard way and are of different sizes – this is to mimic the dappled light in a forest. The rooms all have shared facilities, just as when the Inn first opened. A few rooms are on the ground floor – mostly in one of the new wings. The other rooms are on the next 2 floors – for which the corridors open off the balcony areas. The balconies are wide and are filled with comfortable chairs and lounges. Everything here is on a grand scale. The original guests had to dress for dinner and, if they didn’t meet the high standards, they had to eat outside in a large tent instead of the dining room. After the tour we had to check out as we were not booked in the same room tonight as last night. (Back in February when we made our booking we got the last available room each night but they weren’t the of same rate) The hotel staff transferred our bags to our new room (just down the hall as it turned out). When we took our day packs out to the car, there was a brief sleet and snow flurry for about 15 minutes and it turned quite cold and windy, but after posting a couple of postcards, it stopped snowing and after looking at “Old Faithful” spout again, we set off in the car through the park to the north to see some of the attractions (geysers, waterfalls etc.) that we hadn’t seen or stopped at yesterday. There are so many geysers, fumaroles and other hot springs in this park and they are fascinating to watch. We were quite rugged up today with singlet, long sleeved t-shirt, fleecy lined top, polar fleece coat, beanies and raincoat on top and we were mostly warmer than yesterday – but still cold. However when there was some sleet and biting winds at some stages of the day, it was very hard to be warm even though we were often walking. The temperature probably never got up past about 5C, but later in the day it was sunny but not warm. We looked at everything on and near the road, getting out of the car and walking along the boardwalks to see all the geysers and hot spots. The scenery was quite beautiful and there were not too many people there. In summer they get 3½ million visitors – can’t imagine how crowded it must be in the height of the season. When we arrived back at about 5:45pm, we went down to the general store to have a look – there were two bison grazing close to the road and we had to skirt around them. We then checked in to our new room and went and had an ice cream each. Afterwards we went to dinner in the historic restaurant again and are spending our last night in Yellowstone tonight. The park is amazing, very beautiful and is all at an altitude of over 7,000ft so walking round makes you feel a bit tired, but we’ve had a good time here.