Man, oh, man did this adventure blow our previous adventures out of the water. Yellowstone has been at the top of my list for places I am dying to explore for years. Last year when I was planning our trip to San Francisco for my birthday I decided taking a trip for my birthday each year would be a fun tradition. While in San Francisco (of all times) it hit me, Yellowstone. THAT is where our next big trip needed to be, and so I started planning. I have a pretty outlandish adventure planning brain, so when I start blurting out plans I want to make to Scott they can sound pretty crazy at first (i.e. Flying all our camping gear with us to Seattle, renting a car, and driving it down the coast, camping along the way; volunteering to work on a farm in Ireland for free meals and a place to stay; backpacking through China's wilderness; etc.). Therefore, when I said we should take eight days off work, rent a car, and drive all the way to Yellowstone in Wyoming and back, camping along the way at Zion, Bryce Canyon, and other unknown places - you can guess that there were some doubts as to whether it would actually take place. But this trip was one I was convinced could happen, and soon, so I spoke about it as if it were already decided and set in stone - and well - I convinced us both and it HAPPENED. It was so simple. A car can take you to some crazy places, people. All you have to do is drive, and the beauty of this country will reveal itself to you. Absolutely the trip of my life. No campground reservations, no set schedule. Just a rental car filled with our camping gear and two coolers with enough food to last us a week - and we hit the road.
Day 1: Drive to Zion
Woke up Day 1 and packed the last of our things into the car in Costa Mesa, CA and drove 7 hours straight to Zion National Park, UT. We got to see some crazy gorgeous desert, and pulled up to the park entrance around 4pm that afternoon. Both campgrounds were full, but the guy at the booth liked us and wanted to help us out, so he made a call and sent us to the Watchman campground (typically reservations only) and his friend Sarah (love you Sarah) sold us a campsite for the night because the people who reserved it did not show. Major score. After paying for the site we left and drove on the windy road into the park further, drove through a mile long tunnel carved out of one of the giant rocks, and parked at the lookout trailhead.We hiked the Canyon Overlook Trail to see this beauty below.
After our hike we headed back to out site to set up camp. Decided to make setting up our tent a race and clocked our set-up time at a little over 6 minutes (got it down to around 4 minutes by the end of the trip, we were pretty stoked). The sunset and stars were pretty awesome too.
Day 2: Hiking Angel's Landing & Driving North
We drove to the shuttle stop in the morning to take it to the Angel's Landing trailhead. You hike around 1200 feet straight up via a series of switch-backs, and then continue to ascend to the tip top of Angels Landing. Despite my fear of heights I was convinced I could do it, however, I backed out a half mile short of the top. My knees were shaking and I was losing feeling in my legs I got so nervous, I know, so bummed! One day though, I'm going to go back and face my fear. Till then, I live another day.
Day 3: Drive to Yellowstone
Woke up bright and early to head to Yellowstone. Our goal was to make it to the campground, Norris, in the park by the early afternoon in hopes of landing a campsite. We had the most beautiful drive through Idaho (that state seriously stole my heart), and I nearly started hyperventilating from excitement when I could see the peaks of Yellowstone in the distance! Most exciting moment of the trip.
We arrived at Norris Campground around 3pm and scored one of the few last campsites available. After setting up our tent it started to rain and was the most beautiful rain I've ever seen. We explored our campground and fell in love with the winding Gibbon River that ran alongside it, as well as the roaming bison found in it's meadows.
It was a gorgeous sunny morning when we woke up, so we got ready real quick and jumped in the car to head off to the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone. Not 30 seconds after getting into the car did dark storm clouds form out of no where and it start to pour rain. Yellowstone thunder is something else. It was awesome. We drove to Canyon Village, and waited out the rain inside the visitors center and village market where we got some coffee. Then the sun came out and we had the most gorgeous day exploring the upper and lower falls of the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone. Pictures of these falls is what initially started my obsession with visiting Yellowstone. Seeing them was one of my dreams come true. Finishing exploring the fall's trails in the early afternoon, we decided to continue driving down to Yellowstone Lake. The only word I have to describe this lake is majestic. Definitely want to go back and spend more time at this beauty.
Learning our lesson the night before about how the rain likes to roll in right around s'mores eating time, we got back to our campsite earlier enough to have dinner, build a fire, and get those s'mores roasting right in time for the clouds to move in and shoo us into our tent again for the night. How were our s'mores in Yellowstone? Best. S'mores. Ever. My giant homemade graham crackers? Nailed it. Paired with a bunch of vegan vanilla Dandie's Marshmallows smushed together and roasted to gooey perfection + half a bar's worth of quinoa crunch organic dark chocolate. One giant s'more puts the traditional three small ones to shame. I wish I could relive this night over and over again.
Day Five: Old Faithful, Midway Geyser Basin, drive through Teton, and Idaho bound.
Yellowstone's unpredictable weather struck again when we woke up the next morning to freezing temps and snow flurries. We bundled ourselves up and jumped in the car to drive to see Old Faithful and were super thankful for the warm cups of coffee waiting for us there before standing out in the freezing cold to wait for Old Faithful to blow. Well, she was faithful, and it was pretty neat - but honestly, after seeing the Grand Canyon and Lake Yellowstone the day before, Old Faithful paled in comparison when it came to the "ah" factor. When you think about all the insane magma and pressure bellow the earth's surface causing the geyser to blow like it does - then it is pretty incredible.
Day Six: Bryce Canyon
We awoke to the sound of the creek running beside our tent at the KOA in beautiful south-east Idaho. After showering for the first time in 6 days, and scoring some free coffee (lots of mention of coffee on this trip) we said goodbye and thank you to the gracious couple who helped us out the night before and were on the road once more. This time it was to Bryce Canyon, Utah. We pulled into the Sunset campground in Bryce around 5:30pm and found an open site. After struggling to find a place that could give us cash back to pay for our site (and encountering the most un-enthusiastic people in the world, seriously, something was in the water there that day) we ditched our site and headed to hike into the hoodoos. And WOW, overlooking the vast canyon of hoodoos took our breath away. Then hiking down into and through them was unlike any other feeling I've experienced yet. It's as if you are the tiniest being in the presence of something so majestic you wonder if are truly allowed to be there at all. We hiked back to our campsite by sunset, and enjoyed our last night of s'mores and stargazing. Waking up in Idaho and going to sleep in Bryce Canyon, Utah. It was a good day.
Day Seven: The Narrows at Zion and Home
We woke up early in Bryce, packed up our tent, and headed for Zion. One trail we didn't have time for when we first stopped at Zion on this trip was the narrows. Our pass into Zion park was good for one week, and wouldn't you know it was exactly one week from this day that we first arrived at Zion to kickstart our trip. So of course we couldn't pass up a second chance at the narrows. After getting such weird vibes from the people in and around Bryce Canyon we high-tailed it out of there, waving goodbye to those awesome hoodoos. If you are ever driving on the 89 highway between Bryce and Zion you must stop at the Galaxy Diner. We only had time to grab coffees to go, but the guy who ran this place was so excited about his job and life. This diner was legit. Not only was their coffee super bomb, but their FOOD, oh their food. Wish we had time for breakfast, someone go back there and eat some for us, please. We pulled into Zion, hopped on their shuttle once again and took it to the end of the route to begin our hike into the narrows. You walk up the Virgin River as it narrows (hence the name) and the vast canyon walls close in on either side of you. We sadly did not have enough time to go as far as you can into them, so another trip is in our future, but it was so much fun and an incredible way to end our adventure.
Afterwards we began our drive back to our little home in Costa Mesa, CA, but not after being welcomed back into society with a 3 hour traffic delay entering California (haha). We are both so overwhelmed with thankfulness that we got to go on this trip and experience a bit of what this wild country has to offer. It's amazing where a car can take you, just start driving and see.