Rocky Mountain National Park

P1020537

By the time we hit up Rocky Mountain, most of the holiday traffic had receded and we were able to enjoy a beautiful day exploring the different ecosystems the park has to offer without all the added stress of tourist throngs. We spent about half a day which was enough time to explore about half the park. We entered by way of Estes Park and worked our way up along the Trail Ridge Road. The road itself was once a hunting trail used by ancient inhabitants of the area. Now it’s the best way to “car hike” the park through its sub-alpine, alpine, and tundra systems. The Tundra was pretty awesome. Barren with just a few scrubby plants clinging to the landscape…and cold. Having never been in such an environment before I have to say it was my favorite part of the park. We stopped at the Alpine Visitors’ Center for lunch and spotted an elk herd hanging out on a patch of snow.

In the evening we visited Boulder where my friend Kelly lives and had a great time eating too many nachos and catching up. Bear had a great time at Pearl Street, exploring the parks and ultimately taking the plunge into the water fountain. We were so glad he was recovered from his illness and could really enjoy himself.

No Rainbows at the Rainbow Overlook, but really...who needs one?

No Rainbows at the Rainbow Overlook, but really…who needs one?

Rock stream in the Tundra

Rock stream in the Tundra

A quiet moment

A quiet moment

My sweet Bear (Photo by: Kelly True)

My sweet Bear (Photo by: Kelly True)

Wild nights on Pearl St

Wild nights on Pearl St

Yellowstone and Grand Teton

A moment of triumph

A moment of triumph

Our next big stop was at Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks. I’d visited Yellowstone for the first time nearly 10 years ago and absolutely loved it. I was really looking forward to sharing with with DB and the Bear. Of course, trying to do that on the 5th of July was probably not the best idea, but we worked with our dealt hand just the same. We entered the park through the West entrance and headed up to Mammoth Hot Springs. Poor Bear was still feeling under the weather, but by the time we hit the Hot Springs Visitor Center he seemed in better spirits and we thought we’d grab lunch and take a walk on the boardwalk. Naturally, as soon as we put in our food order the fire alarm in the restaurant went off. It seemed like DB and I were the first ones to stand up and realize that we should probably get out of there, but soon everyone followed suit to a portico across the way. While we waited for the alarm to be cleared by the fire marshall a hail storm rolled up. The Bear thought it was awesome, of course. Unfortunately, it became evident that neither the fire alarm or the rains were going anywhere so when it let up a bit we hightailed it back to the car and continued south skipped Old Faithful and heading straight into Grand Teton.

After a long and stressful day sitting in wildlife jams and dealing with terrible drivers, we were relieved to take in the quiet of the Tetons, majestic against the receding storm clouds. We hardly saw anyone on the roads and had a quiet drive down to the Hostel in Jackson Hole where we spent the night. The following morning we did a quick visit back into the park and then continued on our way.

It can be tough traveling with a toddler on a good day. Traveling with a sick toddler brings its own set of challenges. DB and I were both itching to bust out the Osprey and take the Bear into the parks to see and experience the environment around us, but it wasn’t meant to be. At least now we have a better idea of the places we want to revisit when he’s a bit older. We agreed before we left that this trip was more of an overview to get our feet wet. We knew we wouldn’t be able to spend the amount of time in the parks that we wanted to, but we figured car hiking was better than no visit at all, and we were right. These are beautiful and majestic places that everyone should have a chance to see, no matter how briefly.

IMG_3778

Taking in a display at the visitors’ center

Dad, try this water, it's awesome.

Dad, try this water, it’s awesome.

...and then it hailed

…and then it hailed

The Hot Springs

The Hot Springs

The Yellowstone Valley

The Yellowstone Valley

Our first view of the Tetons

Our first view of the Tetons

We were soooo tired

We were soooo tired

Clouds rolling through the valley

Clouds rolling through the valley

Glacier National Park

P1020433The first major stop on our cross country adventure was Glacier National Park. We set ourselves up in Kalispell, MT for two nights and were able to get one full day in the park, though sadly the Bear was quite ill so we weren’t able to get out and explore as much as we would have liked. None the less, we got a gorgeous overview (minus the throngs of other tourists) and can’t wait to go back at some point. The Going to the Sun Road was every bit, if not more, beautiful as the guidebooks make it out to be. We started off cruising past Lake McDonald and then stopped for a quick hike through the Trail of Cedars. From there we hugged the cliffside as we winded our way up through the glacier carved valley, admiring waterfalls and trying not to hit any other distracted drivers (pro tip: avoid all National Parks on major summer holidays, like 4th of July). We stopped briefly to picnic at Logan Pass and continued on to view the Jackson Glacier. For a place that was carved out by these massive living ice sheets, only the Jackson Glacier is still viewable from the road. The rest have retreated into the parks interior and it’s estimated by 2035 they’ll be gone completely. This was put into perspective for us when we realized the Bear would be just about finished high school when this happens. We stopped for a few photos at St. Mary’s Lake and then headed back to enjoy the valley views once more.

We had hoped to go back for a bit the following day, but unfortunately poor Bear had come down with a nasty virus. We spent most of the night in the ER and the next several days dosing him with ibuprofen to keep his fever down. Poor little guy, I know he was terribly uncomfortable, but he handled it so well.

On the Trail of Cedars near the Avalanche Campground

On the Trail of Cedars near the Avalanche Campground

Rushing glacial waters on the Trail of Cedars

Rushing glacial waters on the Trail of Cedars

Before the sickness really kicked in

Before the sickness really kicked in

Along the Going to the Sun Road

Along the Going to the Sun Road

More views along the road

More views along the road

St Mary's Lake

St Mary’s Lake

Enjoying some much needed fresh air

Enjoying some much needed fresh air

Waterfalls along the Going to the Sun Road

Waterfalls along the Going to the Sun Road

A beautiful afternoon

A beautiful afternoon

Mt. Rainier

P1020218The weekend after we tackled Olympic National Park, we decided to keep the momentum going and head down to Mt. Rainier National Park. On really clear days there’s one part of our community where we can look straight down Puget Sound and see Mt. Rainier, it’s rare and sometimes you might think it’s just a weird cloud, but its shape and size are unmistakable. The really wild part? It’s about 200 miles away. They say if you can see the mountain you should go to it. Most of the time it’s hiding under the clouds.

We started off early on the first day, and visited the Grove of the Patriarchs, home to trees that are 1,000 years old. SInce the weather was favorable we continued along through the snow-covered mountainside in our car and managed to get great views of Rainier from up close before stopping at the Paradise visitor center to watch the hikers head off for the summit.

P1020207 P1020195-2 P1020226 P1020213-2 P1020204 P1020193 P1020180

 

We kept our second day short visiting Longmire and hiking one of the trails there. The Bear was not in a favorable mood so we enjoyed the trail for a bit before turning back and making the long journey home. We’re glad that we were finally able to experience and mountain up close and hope we can come back this way someday to explore more. To view all our photos click here.

P1020237 P1020251