Well, that escalated quickly! What started as planning for a three day weekend in Michigan moved toward a 5 day vacation in the Colorado Front Range which finally morphed into a full-blown, 10 day road trip to Wyoming. Crosby (4.5 years old) had already proven himself as a road warrior on a three week road trip but Molly and I were both a little reticent about such a long trip with Caroline (1.5 years old and full of attitude). To circumvent the problem, we decided to suck it up and do the big drives at night to save major headaches trying to entertain a toddler in the car.
We both worked normal days on Friday, took quick naps, loaded up the truck, and headed west driving through the night. With enough good music, coffee, and Redbull we made great time to our first destinations in South Dakota. We grabbed brunch at Wall Drug (surprisingly good!) and let the kids run to kill time before check-in at the Fairfield Inn and Suites in Rapid City. The afternoon and evening were spent chasing the kids all over the spacious Watiki Water Park and trying to relax in the hot tub occasionally. After some great pizza from Sliders, we called it an early night to try to catch up from the lack of sleep.
Sunday morning we decided to skip more Watiki time in lieu of an afternoon pit stop at one of my favorite childhood destinations, Star Plunge in Thermopolis, Wyoming. The hot spring-fed waterpark had been updated since I had been there last and was an extremely enjoyable, relaxing experience as most of the weekend crowds had disappeared and we essentially had the pools and slides to ourselves.
After pushing through the seemingly never-ending steppe of central Wyoming, we arrived at Bearitage, our VRBO cabin for the next four nights. The cabin was absolutely perfect for our family: spacious with a GREAT fireplace, plenty of outdoor play on the property, and easy access to nearby Highway 26 leading into Grand Teton National Park.
Monday morning we woke early, made breakfast, bought an annual pass at the park entrance, and headed toward Jenny Lake. Hiking with two small kiddos, we decided to reduce some mileage and took the ferry across the lake to access the Hidden Falls and Inspiration Point trails. Despite what a Park Ranger told us, Crosby had zero issues hiking from the dock to Inspiration Point. She probably doesn’t meet too many true city kids used to long walks! The views were great and it was well worth the short hike up. After returning to the trail split, we let Crosby choose whether he wanted to hike up to Hidden Falls or begin our hike back to the Visitor Center trail head. He was feeling a little nervous about the 2.5 miles we had left to go so opted to skip the falls. Caroline was in a backpack so didn’t get a vote. The trail was offset further from the lake than I had expected so it wasn’t until close to the end that we found a spot to scramble down to the beach for a picnic lunch.
It was a picture-perfect evening so we headed to the Snake River Overlook for sunset. Ansel Adams certainly had an eye for beauty and the spot did not disappoint. We stayed for a bit, then slowly made our way back to the cabin, stopping occasionally for more sunset pictures.
Tuesday morning, the real world interrupted our vacation briefly as Molly had to work for a couple hours in the morning. We made the most of it by building a fire and exploring the property. Work obligations fulfilled, we headed back into the Tetons for another day of exploration. Attempting to get off the beaten path, we opted for Moose-Wilson Road en route to Teton Village and Jackson Hole ski area. Oops, this road must be listed somewhere as a scenic or wildlife drive because it was PACKED with cars. We did see a mother bear and her cub which made the traffic a little more tolerable. Jackson Hole Resort was smaller than we had expected but the mountain seemed expansive and was quickly added to our skiing/boarding bucket list. Our original plan was to ride a gondola to the top for a little sight-seeing but we quickly turned away after seeing the price tag of over $100 for our family. Sorry guys, for that price we will just hike. Instead, we did a little shopping and had a great lunch at the Four Seasons before relaxing in the resort hammocks and heading back to the truck.
Still feeling the need to experience a little solitude in the Tetons, we opted for the 4WD Cottonwood Creek Road on the way back to the cabin. The road was in good shape, but was closed at the Snake River. Undeterred, we decided to head down to the river for some rock skipping and fishing. The fishing was better than the catching and both kids had switched to rock skipping when a VERY large bull moose decided that he would like to cross the river to the beach we happened to be occupying. We made a hasty retreat to give him ample space to ford and then ascend the river bank. Although a bit unnerving, it was an amazing experience to be close to such an animal in the wild without cars or other people nearby.
After such an incredible experience by the river, the Tetons spoiled us again with a beautiful sunset on our way out of the park!
It had been decided that Wednesday would be our Yellowstone day. Excited to finally see a park we had heard so much about, we got moving at a decent hour and hit the road… only to wait in line at the park entrance… and in construction traffic… and at the visitor center… and behind cars stopping in the middle of the road to photograph geese (yes, Canadian fucking GEESE)… and in still more construction traffic. OK, you get the point, Yellowstone was not our favorite park. Yes, there were some cool things to see and the kids enjoyed the “Dragon Farts” and epic waterfall views but spending 12 hours in the car to see a few cool things while dodging throngs of bad drivers and endless people was not a great return on investment in our opinions. One great bonus of the day: an epic sunset behind the Tetons across Jackson Lake on the drive back to the cabin.
Thursday started as a bit of a bummer; it was time to leave Bearitage Cabin and begin pushing back east. Crosby had big alligator tears and was crushed to be leaving so soon. Spirits remained pretty low until we made a pit stop in the Bighorn Mountains for some fishing, toy Jeep mudding, and good old fashioned redneck beer can shooting.
Feeling better about life, we proceeded east to Circle Park Road to find some dirt road camping. After selecting a spot meeting our requirements of a great view, fire ring, and privacy, we parked the truck and set about making camp. This was Caroline’s first camping experience and she thoroughly enjoyed the sense of freedom running in the meadow, playing with glow sticks, and constantly telling me to add more firewood to the already quite large fire.
With rain turning to snow in the overnight forecast, it was decided we would all sleep in the truck since it was outfitted to do so. After a cramped, yet warm, night we slowly made our way through the new landscape and down into town for a hot, delicious breakfast at the Busy Bee Cafe in downtown Buffalo, WY.
Continuing our trek eastward, a stop at Devils Tower was an absolute must. It was a great chance to take in a geological wonder, picnic, and do some bouldering. Crosby was in heaven and took it upon himself to climb nearly every rock in sight.
The next logical stop was one of our favorite places, Badlands National Park. We found a great picnic spot and explored the alien landscape until dark. With more rain in the forecast and Caroline’s utter disdain for long car rides, Molly and I thought it best to just drive through the night on the way home as well. With a bit of luck we stayed ahead of the rain and made it to the family lake house in Wisconsin in time for breakfast, a gear drop, and a nap.
We were initially on the fence about bringing the kiddos but Crosby once again proved himself as a true road warrior and little Caroline started to come around by the end. Hearing them tell stories from the trip after we got home never gets old.