A Travellerspoint blog

Winter in Yellowstone National Park, Day 2.

Day 2. Tour of Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, Norris Geyser Basin. Home

sunny 20 °F

Day 2.
I had a little better night's sleep, but was still awake at 6am. I quickly dressed for the cold walk to the breakfast room, waking Chris in the process. I went over and had the same as yesterday: omelet, toast, peaches, hot chocolate. Good Morning America was on and I watched until Chris came over. 4 guys on a photography tour came in, we recognized them from the day before. They basically go to the same places that we do, but stay longer. They leave at 7am, our tour starts picking up passengers at 8am. Photo tours charge a set price per van load. If you can get at least 8 to go, the price is about the same as a regular tour. After BF, back to the room to clean up and get ready for the tour. Over to the lobby at 7:30, I check my e-mails. At shortly after 8am, our snow coach pulls up. A smaller van than yesterday, this one seats 14 and Anthony is our guide. They use the smaller vans for the Canyon tour because the Park Service has not approved the larger buses for this tour. The Old Faithful tour is more popular and they need more seats everyday. The Buffalo Bus Company alone has over a 100 seats a day for the Old Faithful tour and there are several other tour companies.

We are the first to load and pick the seats right behind Anthony. That way we can be first off the van at each stop. 6 of us were at the Branding Iron Inn (BII), the rest over at the Hilton. A quick stop at the tour office for paperwork and we were off by 8:30am. Same routine as yesterday when we hit the Park entrance. The ranger checks that all have paid to enter the park. First stop is by the Madison River for the frost covered tress. Anthony tells us that the water vapor from the river is why these trees have much more frost than those away from the river. The Madison River never freezes due to the high volume of heated water that the thermal features pumps into it each day. Yellowstone recorded a low temp of -66f (-54c) a few winters ago and the Madison River never froze. This is why many waterfowl use Yellowstone to spend the winter. They don't have to fly any further South to find open water and a plenty of food. The same bison as yesterday were across the river, grazing on what grass they could find. A few of our tour that had not been in the park yesterday jumped out for a few photos. The rest of us had enough shots of these bison. We stop at Madison for a bathroom break and a chance to warm up or buy a snack. Every tour bus and snowmobile tour stops at Madison, part of the routine.
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After Madison, we head for the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone. Anthony drives straight to Canyon Village, our lunch stop. Chris and I brought our own snacks. Many bought the box lunch offered by the tour company. I had my granola bars and an apple and chatted with others on our tour. Chris was outside getting some shots of the bison laying in the road. I looked for a trash bin after finishing my snack, but could not find one. None to be found inside Canyon Village, not in winter. Not in the bathroom either. You are expected to take your trash back to your van. They just cannot deal with the volume of trash tour groups and snowmobiles generate. Anthony found everyone and we headed out for the next leg of our tour. There is not much to see as he heads for a meadow where animals are usually spotted. I almost fell asleep as did others. Full tummy, warm snowcoach and the rocking of a moving vehicle makes many sleepy. All of us are encouraged to shout out when we spot anything worth stopping for. First up is some swans and ducks on the Yellowstone River. The river is partially frozen as it does not receive the hot water that the Madison & Firehole Rivers do. We get some great shots of the swans and off we go.

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A few miles later another shout out. A coyote is hunting for mice & voles not far from the road. We all pile out and try to get a decent shot of the coyote looking for food. He pounces several times as we were watching, no luck that we saw. After the coyote sighting, we arrive at the large meadow were a herd of bison are grazing. One of the photo groups is there before us and we see some serious cameras clicking away. They have tripods and long lenses, real pros wanting National Geography quality photos. I get some I am happy with and we drive to a turn around area and get some scenic shots.
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Now we head for the Upper Falls of the Yellowstone. Short walk to the overlook and a great view of the falls and canyon. After everyone has their turn snapping away, we get back on the van and head for the Lower Falls overlook. Same routine. Chris and I are first off, quick walk to the overlook and we get our shots before the others. We all agree that we got very lucky with the weather. It has been sunny most of the day, blue sky, light wind and not that cold. I checked when we left West Yellowstone, 0 (-18c). It was 5f (-15c) at Madison, high for the day was around 30f (-1c). Really perfect weather for mid January.
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We loaded up and headed back to Canyon Village for a bathroom break. Now it was my turn to get some photos of the bison laying in the road by Canyon. I get about 70ft from the bull bison and try to keep a road sign between us. On full zoom, I get my shots. Back on the van, we head back. First up is the Norris Geyser Basin (NGB). My knee is starting to hurt but I hike some of the NGB trail. Just perfect conditions, I take plenty of shots of the scenic vistas of the NGB until I see that my batteries are low. I carefully select a few more shots and then my camera goes dead. My fault of course, I did not carry extra AA batteries. I shot over 300 photos in 2 days and that was all the juice 4 AA batteries had. Back to the van, I wait for the rest of the group. I told Chris I was done taking photos and would have to get copies from him for the rest of the tour.

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Monument Geyser Basin & Beryl Springs are close to the road. I look at them and Chris takes a few shots. Next up is Gibbons Falls, OK but not very impressive after the falls of the Yellowstone River. After we all get back on the van, we head back to Madison. Bathroom break, snack stop. 4th time at Madison, I just chat with our tour group until time to leave. On the way back to West Yellowstone, we see a bunch of snowmobiles and tour buses stopped. A sure sign something is worth stopping for. We see a few bison, but nobody needs anymore bison photos. Sure enough, we see some bald eagles in a tree. I get out to stretch my knee and will rely on Chris to get good shots of the eagles. After everyone has their shots, off we go to WY.

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First stop is the BII and 6 of us troop off. We both thought Anthony did a decent job as tour guide and I give him a $20 tip for both of us.
We hit the bathroom and then head for the lobby. We ask the front desk clerks their advice on where to have dinner. One mentions the all you can eat spaghetti dinner at The Gusher and that gets Chris's attention. We decide to drive over just to fire up the van. It sat all day yesterday and I wanted to to start it up and get it ready for the drive home tomorrow. The Gusher is over by the Buffalo Bus Company office and has a reader board advertising its spaghetti night. In we go and ask about price and what is in the sauce. Bad news for me, meat sauce is the only option. The price was $12, OK by WY standards and Chris decides to go for it. I choose soup & salad for $10. The Stage Coach Inn is right across the street and I walk over to look it over. When we were looking at a winter tour of Yellowstone NP in Dec. I picked the Stage Coach because of price, $59/night. After talking to a tour guide on the phone in early Jan. I switched to the BII. Newer rooms and better BF. The front desk clerk at the Stage Coach told me a room with 2 queen beds was $69/night, same as we were paying at BII. Back to the Gusher, I dig into my soup and salad. An OK meal, there are not that many low cost dinner choices in WY during the winter. Back to the hotel, Chris starts working on his photos, I hit the hot tub again. After a 15 minute soak, I walk back to the room for my shower. One small quibble with the BII is the lack of a shower in the hot tub area. I think most would rather shower right there after soaking in the hot water. Shower, change into fresh clothes, then walk to your room. I shower, watch some TV, read a bit, then take my Tylenol PM and try to sleep. I again castigate myself for not bringing my own pillows. With the Odyssey, I had heaps of room and should have thrown them in the back. Another poor nights sleep, we are up at 6am. Over to the BF room, we load up on omelets, toast, peaches, hot chocolate. We like to steal some fresh fruit for our lunch, but don't have that choice. WY is too far from a real market to have bananas, apples available each day. After BF, clean up, pack and warm up the Odyssey. We are both grateful for the heated seats as it is 2f (-16c) this morning.

I stop at the lobby for the final bill, $243 for 3 nights. $69/night plus the taxes. Add in $260 for 2 tours plus tip, about $70 each in petrol, $30 for 3 dinners and we spent approx. $500 each for our Yellowstone winter adventure. We both felt like it was worth the time/money to visit Yellowstone NP in the winter. I doubt I will ever go again in the winter, but glad it did it while I can still walk to the thermal features. It took 11 hours to get back to Vegas, getting in at 5pm. Our winter adventure was over.

Posted by vegasmike6 12:07 Archived in USA Tagged animals winter Comments (1)

Riding the High Roller

sunny 95 °F

My neighbor Jean had her Michigan friend Diane in for a week's visit. Both were born in the UK, same week, same year. Both married US servicemen and have lived in the US since to 1950s. Diane comes to Vegas to celebrate their birthdays each June. Friends since they were age 8.
Jean asked me to drive them plus our neighbor Alice to dinner and then over to ride the High Roller (HR). Jean had most nights booked with something to do, so Friday became the night for our trip the HR. Our plan was to have dinner at a Bahama Breeze that is close to the Strip then over to the HR. Bahama Breeze was crowded, but we had a nice meal before heading over to the HR. We wanted to be on the HR when it was dark, so we strolled around the Linq shops before boarding at 8:20pm. Cost was $31 for NV residents, $36 for everyone else. It is $10 cheaper before 6pm, but we all wanted to see the lights of the Strip, so we voted to pay the $31.
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The Linq Project cost $550 million and includes shops, restaurants, entertainment plus the HR. The Linq started Sept. 2011 and was finished April 2014. There were 3,000 construction jobs when being developed and 1,500 permanent jobs. Diane bought some overpriced souvenirs while we strolled around the Linq shops and waited for nightfall. Perfect weather was a plus. Warm enough for shorts, but not so hot to be uncomfortable.
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The HR really never stops, but we found it fairly easy to board. Just step lively when it is your turn. There are employees there if you need assistance. There are 28 pods, each holding up to 40 people. It was not that crowded and they only put 10 in our pod. Same with the ones before/after ours. We saw empty pods go around before dark. A countdown clock tells you how far you are from the 550 ft (167m) top. All of us were snapping off photos as we hit the top and started on the way down. The HR takes 30 minutes to make a full circuit and goes by much to quickly. All 4 of us wanted to go around again, but of course that is not to be. Staff are there to help everyone off. I took Diane's arm and we stepped off. Alice helped Jean off. Certainly not a problem for most, but those with mobility issues might need a helping hand.
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I think the Linq is a really well thought out project and should be a huge success. Plenty of places to eat, drink, live entertainment and of course the HR. Plenty of free parking east of the HR. Valet if you don't want to walk from the parking lot. Give it a chance when you next hit Las Vegas.

Posted by vegasmike6 20:51 Archived in USA Tagged hotels Comments (0)

2ridetheworld

Meeting up with Simon & Lisa again.

sunny 117 °F

I met Simon & Lisa Thomas in 2007 when they came through Las Vegas. It was a serendipitous meeting to be sure. A TP British couple, Allan & Gail had messaged me about touring the Grand Canyon. I met them at Circus Circus and we decided to see some Vegas hotels that first day. We toured Caesars Palace, Forum Shops, Venetian, The Wynn and next up was the MGM Grand. I valet parked at the MGM and we started walking towards the hotel. We saw these very large BMW off road motorcycles and walked over to see what was going on. Not many valet park a motorcycle. Allan saw a British flag on one of the bikes and wanted to chat with some fellow Brits. Simon & Allan started talking English football and I asked Lisa about their logo: 2ridetheworld.com. We found out they had been on the road for 4 years and were going around the world on their BMWs. I took some photos, got their address card. I decided to stay in touch with them and follow their journey. If we had pulled into the MGM one minute sooner we would have never met and I would not know about their epic ride around the world. When I reminded Simon of our first meeting 6 years ago, he said, "it was meant to be." That is probably as good an explanation as any.

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After I got the MGM photos on my computer, I e-mailed them to Lisa. We stayed in touch a few times a year until Facebook became popular. Once they were on FB, I started following their journey weekly. When I saw they were coming back to the US, I messaged Lisa that I would treat them to a Vegas buffet if they came back to town. Simon messaged that they were going to give their presentation at the Las Vegas BMW on June 28th. I looked up the Las Vegas BMW Motorcycle dealership and reserved my spot. I messaged Lisa they were welcome to stay at our house while they were in Vegas. She said they were not sure of the plans after the presentation and they would talk to me that night. I went over early and met Simon while he was still setting up the bikes and equipment needed for their talk. It was great to see him again and reminded him of our first meeting many years ago at the MGM. Lisa arrived a bit later and I again offered them a place to stay if they needed it. It was pretty hectic at that time. Greeting everyone, selling T-shirts & photos, signing autographs and getting ready for their digital presentation. We would leave serious chatting until after the show. Simon does most of the presentation but Lisa chimes in when appropriate. The first half was almost an hour and explained why they left everything in England to start this 10 year journey, through Europe, across the Sahara Desert and then down the coast of Africa. Half time break for snacks and cold drinks. Kudos to Kurt at the Vegas BMW dealership for making the event run as smoothly as it did. Simon & Lisa picked the hottest weekend of the year to visit Vegas. We tied our all time high of 117 (47.3) both Sat. & Sunday. We had 4 days in a row of 115 (46.1) or hotter. It was toasty in an a/c car, forget riding bikes in a blast furnace. Wrong time to hit Vegas. Quick note to all TP members. Vegas is HOT!! June, July August. Best months are Oct. Nov. or March, April. Come then and you will have much better time than trying to slog around in 100 (38) plus heat. After the break, Simon took us up through South America, bit of US, back into Russia, Mongolia, India, the islands of Indonesia, into Australia and finished with New Zealand. Great presentation, beautiful photos and video of the countries they have already visited. Questions after the talk, then many wanted a signed T-shirt, then photos with Lisa & Simon. Many just did not want to leave and hung around to prolong the experience. Finally everyone left and I had a chance to talk with Lisa. I asked her if they were going to stay in Vegas a few days and she said they hoped to. I offered them our guest bedroom and they accepted.

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BMW provided a room Friday night, so they would come over Sat. They needed some work done on the bikes at BMW, so we figured it would be after 2pm before they came over. That gave me time for my work out, shopping, errands. I got home, held off on lunch as we were going to hit a buffet. 4pm came and Lisa called and told me they were running late. OK, more TV & reading. After 5pm they were ready to roll. Simon has GPS so he could get to our house w/o directions. I ask him to call when he got to our gated community. He called from the gate and I drove down to get them in. It was 117 (47.2) and they were hot & thirsty after a 30 minute ride to our house. With their bikes safely in the garage, they had a quick shower and changed into cooler clothes. None of us had lunch, so we wasted little time heading for the buffet at Boulder Station. 6pm Sat. night is busy time for any buffet so there was quite a line. Simon held our place and I took Lisa over to the Rewards Center. You get a discount on the buffet if you have a Stations Rewards card. They used to allow 4 diners on one card, now only 2. A short wait to register and Lisa had her own Stations Casino card. Back in line and we had time to chat about their journey, Vegas, whatever. Great buffet at Boulder Station, many choices and it won't break your budget. After eating more than we should, we headed for home. They were both tired and did not want to go out on the town. We chatted about their 10 year journey and then off to bed.

Sunday morning I usually take my mom over to Blueberry Hill for BF. My neighbor Jean was supposed to go with us for the buffet, but she had already eaten by the time we were ready to roll. I called Jean and ask her to join us for BF. Jean is from the same part of England as Simon and thought she would enjoy meeting them. We had a very good BF and then Jean drove them to Walmart so Lisa could fill a prescription. Once back at the house, Simon had to get cracking on an magazine article that was due Monday. Since is 117 (47.2) again, nobody felt compelled to get out and do anything. They needed a relaxing day and I had nothing that needed my attention. Sunday is usually an off day for my work outs. Simon worked on his magazine article while Lisa answered e-mails and updated her journal. Both keep daily journals so they can blog about their ongoing ride around the world. Simon also writes articles for magazines to help raise money to continue their journey. At 6pm we walked over to Jean's house as she had invited the three of us for dinner. Jean is a good cook so I knew we would have a great meal. Stuffed shells, salad, Texas toast & wine for them, salad, bread for me. Good company and good food made for an enjoyable evening. Simon had more writing to do, so he and I walked home around 8pm. Lisa stayed for some girl talk with Jean. A little TV, a chat with Lisa , some reading and I called it a night. I found out Monday that Simon stayed up after 2am trying to get the article done.

Monday was forecast to be just as hot as Sunday, another 115 (46) plus day. BF and Simon headed back upstairs to finish his article on his computer. Around noon he had completed his writing and e-mailed it the magazine. I fixed a quick lunch for them and then they started loading up the bikes. 2pm and they were ready to roll. Mom came out to see them off and Jean walked up the street as well. A couple of photos and they rode off into the Vegas heat. They had to go back to the BMW dealer for a new tire before riding down to San Diego. They have several presentations scheduled over the next few weeks in Calif. to raise money to continue their around the world adventure. It was great to see them again, spend some quality time and hopefully we will meet again one day. Safe riding Simon & Lisa.

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Posted by vegasmike6 16:11 Archived in USA Comments (2)

SW Winter Trip: Day 1

Las Vegas to Arches NP.

sunny 20 °F

Chris came back from Thailand and we debated where we wanted to go. We chose going over to Arches NP, Monument Valley, then on to the Grand Canyon. We wanted snow on the ground, clear skies and open roads. It snowed in Utah & the Grand Canyon on Dec. 31 and clear skies forecast for the next 4 days. We wanted to watch the bowl games on Jan. 1, so our take-off date was Jan. 2. It was my turn to drive so Chris came over at 6:30am Wed. Jan. 2. Plan A was to drive straight to Cedar City on I-15 and stop for gas. Chris paid for the fuel, I would pay for the motels. We both brought snacks, granola bars for me, candy bars, cookies for Chris. No need for lunch. We decided to drive straight to Arches NP and take as many photos as we could before sunset. We hit Arches NP about 2:30pm and drove to the Landscape Arch trail-head. Bad decision. It was too cold, windy and the trail was in the shadows. We saw a Park Ranger and he advised us that a morning hike made more sense. No argument from us. We drove back to the Windows area and started walking. The sun was still high enough for some decent shots. We hung around until sunset to try and get a shot of the setting sun through Turret Arch. Not really worth the effort was our decision. We took a few, but nothing special. When it was too dark to shoot, we headed out for Moab.
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It was pretty cold after sunset, my car thermometer said it was 14 F (-9 C). Pretty cold for Vegas guys. Chris had just come from Thailand, so he was really feeling it. We had not had a real meal all day, so first stop was Denny's. I like BF even at night, so I pulled in when we spotted Denny's. I had pancake & eggs, Chris voted for a burger. Decent food at an OK price. Right next door was a Super 8 Motel advertising $49 rooms. We had stayed at JR's Desert Inn when we were in Arches NP during the summer. Nice big room at a decent rate. We drove through Moab and were going to price JR's. Their sign was off and the door locked. I guess they were not interested in what little trade there was on a Wed. night in Jan. We did check another motel that advertised $49 rooms, but it was pretty run down and no BF. Back to the Super 8 and we checked in. I used my AARP card and the total for 2 queen beds plus hot BF was $53. We pulled as close to our room as we could and unloaded.
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Since it was only a 3 day trip, we each had 1 small bag plus cameras. I thought the room was great. Everything was clean and looked updated. Huge TV, fridge, microwave, coffee maker, very nice room. I gave it a good review on tripadvisor. There was a bowl game on, so I watched football and Chris edited the photos he took in Arches. I showered first and called it a night at 10:30pm. Day 1 of our winter adventure was over.

Posted by vegasmike6 22:26 Archived in USA Comments (0)

SW Winter Trip: Day 2

Arches NP, Monument Valley, Flagstaff

sunny 20 °F

Both Chris and I are terrible sleepers, so we were up at 6:30am. We headed for the BF room next to the front desk. They had waffles, oatmeal, cold cereal, toast, donuts plus hot/cold beverages. I chose oatmeal, waffles, hot chocolate. Chris went with the waffles, yogurt, coffee. After BF, we cleaned up and were on the road back to Arches by 7:30am. We drove straight to the Landscape Arch trail-head and got ready. It was really cold, 4 F (-15 C) according to my car. We both had good parkas and I had gloves, but my ears were taking a beating. I pulled the collar up as far as possible and started hiking. I had a cortisone shot for my knee right before Christmas, so my knee was not hurting like it has been for many years. When we got into the sunny part of the trail, it got better. Still cold, but at least we were in the sunlight. Landscape Arch is probably the best known arch in the park. There were only 4 others on the trail at 8am so we felt we had the place to ourselves. We got our shots and started back.
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There are 2 other arches on the way back. We never did hike over to them in the summer, so we got off the main trail for Pine Tree Arch. Nothing special but worth a 10 minute detour. Same with Tunnel Arch. A few shots and we headed for the car. It was good to get out of the cold and warm up after about an hour of walking. We stopped at Skyline Arch for a few shots and then on to Sand Dune Arch. It is a narrow canyon and not sure it is worth the effort. You can walk under it very easily and it is probably the lowest arch we saw. We agreed that we had enough photos of Arches and we headed for the Visitors Center.
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We passed on it yesterday and both of us needed the restroom. We did not go into the VC this summer, so it was worth some time to walk through it. Nice gift shop, small museum, Ranger Desk. 10 minutes and we were ready to hit the road again.
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We headed back to Moab, loaded the car with gas and headed for Monument Valley. We stopped at Wilson Arch on 191, about 40 minutes South of Moab. Got out to stretch and pop a few photos. The snow makes it more interesting than our summer photos. We hit Monument Valley around 2:30pm, paid the $10 entrance fee and headed down the loop. The road is dirt, but is in decent enough shape to take my Avalon over it. Just go slow and you won't have any problems. At least in winter. Maybe after a rain it might make sense to take the tour. Not the day we were there. However, we were disappointed how little snow was left. It had been 3 days since it snowed and most of it was gone by the time we got there. We spent about an hour, stopped for a few shots and headed out. We did stop at the MV Visitors Center for a bathroom break and tour the gift shop. I decided to help the Navaho's out and bought a travel coffee cup, $10. I will use it for hot chocolate in the room tonight.
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We left MV and started driving for Flagstaff. Unfortunately we were heading almost due West on 160, driving straight into the setting sun. It was a real chore to see the road. The sun was below the sun visor and I was using my hand to block it. Not fun I can tell you. Finally 160 turned enough South that the setting sun was not a problem anymore. We hit Flagstaff about 6pm and were ready to eat. Chris voted no on Denny's so we picked Pizza Hut. Large pizza plus salad bar was $8 each. Chris went to Univ. of Oregon and they were playing in the Fiesta Bowl against K-State. We watched the game while we ate and just relaxed after a pretty long day of driving. Oregon crushed K-State, so Chris was happy. Next up was to find a room. There were several motels around the Pizza Hut, but all were close to $100. I thought we could do better than that so we kept driving on 160. We saw the Luxury Motel stopped to priced it. They did not have many guests so the lady was willing to bargain. She quoted us $50 with an AARP card. The room was not nearly as nice as the Super 8, but good enough. It had wi fi so Chris was happy. He spent the next couple of hours editing that days photos. I showered, watched some TV, read my book and called it a night at 10:30pm. Day 2 of our winter adventure was over.

Posted by vegasmike6 19:38 Archived in USA Tagged parks Comments (0)

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