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Roadtrip

North to Alaska Roadtrip: One Day in Yellowstone National Park

Yellowstone is one of those places I’d heard about my entire life but really had no idea what to expect. I did know that it is most certainly not a park to visit in one day! It truly deserves days and probably multiple visits to really experience it correctly. However, we knew going into this trip we’d have to make do with our brief stay and luckily, picking the top places we’d see was fairly easy. First, we had to stop at the most famous geyser in the world, Old Faithful, and then, we’d swing by the other-worldly and technicolor Grand Prismatic Spring. 

We drove up from Jackson Hole via the scenic route on US-191, giving us more of the park to see. As we were there in July, the traffic definitely wasn’t ideal. However, the slowness allowed us more time to look out the window. After a quick picnic lunch, we went to the geyser area. 

Highway to Yellowstone

I have to admit that I had no idea that Yellowstone contains the majority of the world’s geysers and the largest concentration in one area! In the Old Faithful area alone, there are multiple geysers to view. Prior to the eruption, we checked out the Old Faithful Inn, the Visitor Center, some of the other geysers and grabbed some ice cream to eat on the boardwalk. Sure, it was all a bit touristy, but also one of those things everyone should probably experience once!


Geothermal pools and springs along the boardwalk

Good Old Faithful


Old Faithful Erupting

After visiting the Upper Geyser Basin, we continued along the road to our next stop, the Grand Prismatic Spring. I had seen photos of this on Instagram and it looked incredible. The parking area but was full, so we parked along the road. Although I would’ve preferred to do the Fairy Falls Trail hike that overlooks this area, my children weren’t feeling up for it. Instead, we simply hiked straight to it from the road, which is a dead easy walk over a bridge and to a boardwalk. I carried our littlest one in the Ergo because I was worried he might be tempted to dive into the steamy, colorful pools. Despite not getting the best photo op from above, I’m so glad we saw it. It’s such an incredible wonder of the world!

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Finally, we got back in the car and headed to our hotel in West Yellowstone. This was one of the places that was well-booked in advance, so we didn’t have many options. The Days Inn hotel was our least favorite on the trip, but it wasn’t that big of a deal. Honestly, nothing looked too spectacular in this small town. We walked down for a casual pizza dinner at the Wild West Pizzeria, came outside to a beautiful double rainbow and then called it a night.


Definitely not taking anything from this hotel. HA!
 

Up next– Day 4: Yellowstone to Glacier National Park

North to Alaska: Salt Lake City to the Grand Tetons

On our way out of Salt Lake City, we figured we should visit at least one site in Utah. Even though we’ve been to the Great Salk Lake before, I’m kind of fascinated by endorheic basins, so we quickly stopped at the Saltair to see if anything had changed since we were last there. It is so perfectly creepy! (I wish I could go back in time and see it when it was a full-fledged resort.) From there, we drove towards Logan, so we could take Highway 89 through Idaho and into Wyoming. I must admit, it’s pretty cool to drive through 3 states in a matter of a couple of hours!

Honestly, I wasn’t originally planning to stop in the Grand Tetons, but my friend Desi told me that it would be a mistake to miss it. As it wasn’t out of the way, I decided to add it to the itinerary and I was so glad that I did! It turned out to be absolutely beautiful and a place I’d really love to return to. We stayed the night in a cabin at the Cowboy Village Resort  and for dinner, we walked down to Wyoming’s oldest brewery, Snake River Brewing Company. It was the perfect place to take children that had been cooped up in a car for hours.

The following morning, we visited Jenny Lake, the Mormon Row Historic District and a few different overlooks on the way to Yellowstone. 

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Scenic Drive

The Teton Range

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Mormon Row Historic District

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Jenny Lake

Snake River Overlook

Oxbow Bend Overlook

Reflections

Up next — Day 3: Grand Teton to Yellowstone National Park

North to Alaska: Las Vegas to Salt Lake City

The first day of our road trip to Alaska was not exactly the most exciting. However, it would’ve been far too long of a day had we tried to drive from Las Vegas to Jackson Hole. In fact, starting off slowly and with no real rush meant that we were able to begin on a very relaxed note, which was nice given that it would soon be a lot more intense.

The drive to Salt Lake is dead simple, albeit rather boring and long. It was 430 miles from our house to the hotel which took about 6 hours. Since we’ve done this drive a few times, there was no need to stop and sightsee along the way. One of my favorite parts of driving in Utah is the 80 mile/hr speed limit on the I-15. Pedal to the metal, Mama!

We stayed at Hotel Monaco, which was probably one of the nicest and most expensive hotels on our entire journey. Our room had great views of the city and the children loved that they offer “goldfish companions”. For dinner, we walked to our favorite pizza restaurant, Settebello. Then, we tucked in early so we could get on the road first thing the next day. 

Up next — Day 2: Salt Lake to The Grand Tetons 

 

The Car Cruise: North to Alaska

Recently, I wrote about an idea called “The Car Cruise” — a road trip that covers a lot of ground in a short amount of time. Since spring and summer holidays are rapidly approaching, I wanted to finally share some of these trips we’ve taken. Although it might seem daunting to travel long distances with children in a car, I promise it’s not that bad! All it takes is some proper planning, making sure to not overdo it and factoring in some fun activities like visiting local parks, museums, playgrounds or simply getting a special treat after a long journey. And truly, the same principles apply for those traveling solo or as a couple.

Perhaps one of our most grand drives to date came to be around two summers ago when my husband had a work trip in Calgary. I had been waiting for a reason to drive to Alaska for my annual visit home and this seemed like the perfect opportunity. Driving the infamous Alcan highway is definitely a rite of passage for all Alaskans and I was the only one in my family that hadn’t done it. Here was my chance, even if I’d have to do over half of the trip on my own with 3 kids!

As I looked at the map, I realized we’d be passing a bunch of national parks between Las Vegas and Calgary and it seemed silly to not see them. So, I decided that our stopping points would be Salt Lake City, the Grand Tetons/Jackson Hole, Yellowstone and Glacier National Park. Then we’d spend a few days touring around Calgary and Banff (while my husband worked) before heading up to Fairbanks, Alaska with him via Grand Prairie, Muncho Lake and Haines Junction. All in all, we would be driving a little over 3500 miles.

I imagine most people would plan a trip like this many months if not a year away, but that wasn’t an option for us. First things first, I ordered The Milepost, the most famous Alcan guide book that graces many a coffee table in Alaskan households. Then I started booking our accommodations, as the trip was less than two months away (eek!) and many of the best hotels were already fully booked. To make the most of time, we would have only one night in each place (except for Calgary) and we’d focus on visiting one or two sites before moving on to our next destination. This was a bit tricky given that Yellowstone and Glacier are enormous parks, but the point of the car cruise is to get a taste of each place. We can always return for a longer visit later!

As for packing, we each brought a week’s worth of clothing, with the intention of doing laundry once we got to Calgary. I tried to keep things as streamlined as possible since we’d have to haul everything in and out of different places daily. I also filled reusable shopping bags with food and drink provisions. This included an electric kettle, reusable plates, cutlery, cups, mugs, dish soap, granola, oatmeal, granola bars, coffee, tea, bread, bagels, boxed milks, wine and lots of other snacks. The idea was that we’d make our own breakfast daily, make some lunches (sometimes by visiting a grocery to get fresh fruits, salumi and cheese) and mostly plan to eat out for dinner. Dining out for every meal can be very costly and not so great for our waistlines, so I try to keep it to a minimum whenever we travel. 

Finally, I had to figure out what we were going to drive. My husband wasn’t keen on the idea of putting so much mileage or wear + tear on any of our vehicles, as the road can also be notoriously rough. So, I looked into all sorts of options: from renting a car or motorhome to buying a car for someone in Alaska that I could drive up to them. However, I quickly found out it’s surprisingly difficult to find rental companies that allow you to drive through Canada to Alaska. Motorhome were out because they were incredibly expensive and honestly, I wasn’t that excited about driving something so big and slow. In the end, we decided to sell our Volvo XC-90 at the end of the trip and fly home. It was a bit of a risk, but thankfully it sold pretty quickly since there aren’t that many Volvos in Alaska. Although I would’ve loved to take the alternate route back and drive the Cassiar Highway home, it would’ve been a much longer and more intense journey. It guess it just means that I’ll have to do the drive again someday!

Next up — Day 1: Las Vegas to Salt Lake City

Another 100 Miles

It started well over 20 years ago — the fall of ’93 to be precise. I’d get in my car and just drive. I had moved from Fairbanks, Alaska to San Diego, California, and to say I was in a complete state of shock, would be an understatement in the extreme. It was one thousand and eighty degrees different and what felt like a million miles from home. Every chance I got, I’d hit the road like a prisoner out on bail.

I suppose at first it was a defense mechanism. Somehow, the wild and unknown streets of San Diego seemed a safer bet compared to the angsty college freshmen I was holed up with in the Tenochca Dorms at SDSU. I’d drive as though some unknown beacon was beckoning me in any and all directions. I went everywhere. And nowhere. Most of the time I didn’t even know where I was. I just drove. 

Before I knew it, I started venturing further. In ’94, I picked up a car in Seattle and drove it back down the coast. The following year, I did it again, only both directions this time and with my cat, Nico. (Don’t judge.) We listened to Mazzy Star and slept in seedy motels; living on poetry, wine and Camel Lights. On weekends, I’d drive up to Santa Barbara and visit old friends or head to LA (and/or Vegas) with my college buddies for a weekend of revelry. Sometimes, I’d drive to see my sister who was going to school in Phoenix. Eventually, I moved to Las Vegas and continued my nomadic ways, driving all around the valley. Anywhere. Nowhere. Everywhere.

Fast forward to the next century and countless journeys later — I was married and soon after, a mother. I imagine most people slow down a bit after having kids, but I believe I sped up. It quickly became my mission to share the world with my children, as well. In fact, our road trips grew exponentially after they were born. One day they will almost certainly tell people, “Our mom took us on the craziest adventures.” Though they’d gripe and complain at first, we’ve come to a mutual understanding now and I think they love it. They realize I can’t stop; that I don’t want to stop. 

That’s the way it works, you see. Travel is a dangerous drug — with unimaginable highs and equally empty lows. But more importantly, it’s also a love song. There’s a power that comes with being connected to more of the earth and there’s an energy that propels us to keep looking. Some might say it’s an escape. Others may argue it’s about discovery. Perhaps it is both.

I find there’s a space on the road where time doesn’t quite exist in the same manner as real life; an amalgamation of past and present. It doesn’t matter if it’s an epic, “must-see” place or just an obscure, little town in the middle of nowhere. Often I’m struck most by the minutiae; the old-school diner, the perfect font on the storefront’s sign, the lone horse watching from the side of the road, the random people we meet along the way, or finding fragments of what once was.

For the roads that have been so often traveled, I’ve learned to find beauty in looking at the same thing over and over again. The expanses of empty, desert land easily become a moving meditation. I memorize the hills. I know every exit and photo opportunity. I scan the landscape like a hawk, looking for what I’ve missed; that which I haven’t noticed yet. There must be something else there…

But in my dreams, I’d be able to keep going. I’d simply take off and never come back. There’s so much more for me to see! Some might say I must be running from something, but I reckon this constant need to travel is more like a puzzle. I’m collecting pieces and pictures, understanding the lay of the land, in both a physical and abstract manner. If life is about the journey and the story is in the details, then perhaps the road is just a map where we find the world within ourselves. 

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