USA Road Trip Holiday Diaries – Day 4

Although he cried out a few times during the night, BattleKid slept until 7am. We all got better sleep than the night before and felt we might just be over our jetlag. BattleDad kindly cooked us bacon and eggs for breakfast while BattleKid and I watched a chipmunk on our cabin porch.

The cabin had large windows at one end that led onto the porch and these windows made it very easy to watch any wildlife that was out and about early morning. BattleKid thought it might have been Mouse from the Gruffalo as he believed we were staying in the “deep, dark woods”. After breakfast we got dressed and were out the door by 8am, headed for West Yellowstone, this time with a picnic on board.

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Visiting the Midway Geyser Basin at Yellowstone National Park

Our first destination within Yellowstone was the Midway Geyser Basin, home to the Grand Prismatic Spring, the largest hot spring in Yellowstone and the most recognisable from above. We arrived at 9am, and it was quite misty at the spring. It was also cool but this didn’t detract from the beauty of the Grand Prismatic Spring. We had passed the Midway Geyser Basin the afternoon before, and there was no parking in the car park, and a lot of cars were parked along the roadside. But, as we had arrived early, there was plenty. The trick seems to be get there early in the morning, a piece of advice given in the Park paper which acts as an information and guidebook of sorts.

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Resting a minute under the watchful eye of BattleDad at the Grand Prismatic Spring
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The Grand Prismatic Spring
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The Grand Prismatic Spring

At the Midway Geyser Basin, you can also view the Excelsior Geyser which pours over 15,000L of water into Firehole River every minute.

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Excelsior Geyser Crater at the Midway Geyser Basin of YNP

From here we headed on South along the Grand Loop Road and West Thumb via the Craig Pass. Through here you pass across the Continental Divide twice but we didn’t stop for pictures as we had passed the two signs before we realised what they were.

From West Thumb we followed the edge of Yellowstone Lake, the largest body of water in Yellowstone National Park. Lying over 7000 feet above sea level, Yellowstone Lake covers 136 square miles and during winter, it is covered with a 3-foot layer of ice that can remain until late May. It is a beautiful lake and we decided to stop at Lake Lodge for a cuppa and a cake to enjoy the view of it.

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Yellowstone Lake

Two cakes, a coffee, a tea and two packets of crisps cost us $14. While the lodge and view are lovely, the canteen and food were not. The cakes were dry and the canteen was in need of some serious updating. We were also saddened to see the same poor-quality food on offer for lunch as we had experienced the previous day.

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Snack time at Lake Lodge

After our pit-stop, we carried onto the Fishing Bridge, a very beautiful spot on the Yellowstone River. We went down to the water’s edge and BattleKid had a great time throwing stones into the water as you do when you are three.

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Throwing stones into Yellowstone river at the Fishing Bridge

From the Fishing Bridge, we carried on the great Loop Drive stopping off at the Mud Volcano area where the clouds rolled in and we even had a little bit of rain. It didn’t stop us seeing the Dragon Cave and Dragon Cauldron. BattleKid was fascinated by the steam coming out of the Dragon Cave, firmly believing a dragon lived inside. He wanted it to come out!

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Visiting the Mud Volcano area of Yellowstone National Park

Once again, the smell of sulphur around this area was quite strong. That was one thing we noticed. Whenever you are entering a volcanic-type area, the smell hits you before you can see it. In areas where springs and geysers are not prevalent, there is no smell.

We continued our drive along the Yellowstone River and it was along here that we finally spotted a small herd of bison. Joining everyone else, we pulled in and got some pictures with the herd in the background. BattleKid’s fascination with bison really started with this herd.

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Spotting Bison in the Hayden Valley
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Checking out a small herd of bison in Yellowstone

Our next destination was Canyon Village and it was just as we arrived that BattleKid fell asleep in the car for the first time since our trip from Richland. BattleDad and I tag-teamed to see the Brink of the Upper Falls. This is one of two waterfalls along the Yellowstone River and you could only view the top of it from the Brink Lookout. The Yellowstone River itself is quite beautiful and its power is ferocious around the falls.

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Yellowstone River from the Upper Falls viewing point

The viewpoint of the Upper Falls was closed due to construction work, which was a shame. Still, it was amazing to see the top of these falls. The noise was incredible with the force of nature certainly at play. By the time we’d both seen the top of the Upper Falls, Sleeping Beauty had awoken from his slumber, so we had our picnic in the car. We carried on along Canyon Drive and although we didn’t stop, I scouted out the lookout point for the Lower Falls, and BattleDad scouted the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone, both now firmly on our to-do list for the next day. Our plan was to get there early in the morning to avoid the crowds and to get a decent parking spot.

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A view of the Lower Falls of Yellowstone River

We eventually left the Canyon Village area at 4pm and decided to head out of the park. We had completed the Grand Loop Road of Yellowstone and ticked off another of our Yellowstone Bucket List points.

We arrived at West Yellowstone at 5pm and BattleKid and I made a return visit to the Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Centre, using our ticket from the day before for our visit, while BattleDad went to shoot some guns.

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Having fun at the Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Centre in West Yellowstone
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Having fun at the Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Centre in West Yellowstone

Once BattleDad had completed his assault course (only kidding) we got some more groceries and head for home, thrilled with a fab day in Yellowstone. I cooked us a spaghetti bolognese while the boys had their shower.

After dinner we all relaxed and BattleKid discovered the delights of Tom and Jerry, or Tommy and Jerry as he’s taken to calling them. Then it was early to bed for an early start to the waterfalls.

Cath x

 

USA Road Trip Holiday Diaries – Day 3

BattleDad kindly let me sleep in a bit later and I eventually arose at 8.20am. We were all pretty knackered after our 606 miles over 12 hours and we decided to take the day handy and just see what it brought. The boys had had cereal so I did us all some toast to have with a cuppa.

After breakfast I made use of the washer in our log cabin, very grateful there was one there. It meant I could catch up on a few days clothes. I certainly hadn’t packed a full two and a half weeks clothes for each of us, so having laundry facilities was brilliant. We left the cabin at 9.15 am and headed to West Yellowstone for groceries as there was only a gas station with a small shop near us. We found the store easy enough, parked up and firstly took a stroll around West Yellowstone.

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Entering West Yellowstone
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West Yellowstone

Although a modern town, it still had remnants of older days and still had the look of a wild west town. It is located almost 7000 feet above sea level and lies almost exactly halfway between the Equator and the North Pole. Although summers are warm, averaging around 26C (78F), winters are long and bitterly cold with snow on the ground from late October to mid-May. The west gate of Yellowstone National Park and roads to the Madison junction within the park close for this period with no access to the entire southern half of Yellowstone.

The first thing we did was pick up some souvenirs. I got a lovely hoodie jumper and fridge magnet. We also picked up some Christmas decorations, although we had to buy two of one of them as BattleKid managed to break one within a minute of us letting him hold it!

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A Christmas Shop!

We then stopped into a diner, the Old Town Café, and shared their flapjack special of pancakes with apples and cinnamon. It was delicious washed down with a cup of tea. And one portion was more than enough for us three to share.

We got some groceries and then headed to the Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Centre. This is a small, non-profit organisation that houses wolves and bears, who for one reason or another, cannot be released back into the wild.

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The Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Centre in West Yellowstone
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The Grizzly Bear
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Some examples of things destroyed by bears and why keeping food indoors is so important in the north west of America
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One of the beautiful wolves

We saw four wolves and one grizzly bear, who was just magnificent. They rotate the bears in the large enclosure so you can see more if you stay longer or visit again. The great thing about your tickets here are they are valid for two consecutive days.

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Meeting a bison at the Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Centre

It was about 1pm when we left the Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Centre and we decided to take a drive into Yellowstone National Park. A 7-day pass costs just $30 per car. We drove along the River Drive road from West Yellowstone, seeing two elk along the road, to the Madison junction and decided to turn right and take the road towards the geysers. The drive along the Firehole River was just stunning and we couldn’t believe we were actually in Yellowstone National Park!

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The gorgeous Madison River in Yellowstone National Park
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Madison River of Yellowstone National Park

Our first stop was the Lower Geyser Basin. Here we saw the Fountain Paint Pot and Great Fountain Geyser, the Clepsydra Geyser, the Silex Spring and some Fumaroles. This was our first experience of the Yellowstone Geysers and we were very lucky. The Clepsydra was spouting water, as it is a near constant erupting geyser. We were just walking away, along the boardwalks, when we heard some shouts behind us. Great Fountain Geyser had just started erupting and it was an amazing sight to see. We rushed back to grab some pictures. A Yellowstone Ranger was quite excited as he thought it might be the Morning Glory Geyser, but it wasn’t. The eruptions from that geyser are very few and far between and very unpredictable. The rangers call in any they witness as the park is collecting data to see if there is any pattern to its eruptions.

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The Fountain Paint Pot at the Lower Geyser Basin in YNP
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The Lower Geyser Basin in YNP
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Clepsydra Geyser in the Lower Geyser Basin of YNP

We were simply in awe of these natural wonders. They show Earth in its most raw form. The smell of sulphur is quite strong and unmistakable.

From the Lower Geyser Basin we drove South, passing the Midway Geyser Basin, and headed for the Upper Geyser Basin and the most famous one of all, Old Faithful. As we entered the car park of the Old Faithful area, we saw the very end of its eruption. We managed to find parking (no mean feat at 3pm) and decided to get something to eat in the Old Faithful Lodge as we had between 60 and 90 minutes before the next eruption was due.

Unfortunately, the food was mediocre at best and cost us $37 for the three of us. It was also cold, not hot, and eaten out of necessity. We made a mental note to bring a picnic with us the next day.

At 3.55pm, I took BattleKid over to the seating area and found us some good seats. BattleDad was browsing the shops in the Lodge and I hoped he wouldn’t miss the eruption.

Just after 4.30pm, it was showtime. Old Faithful teases you with bubbles and steam before the main event. The main eruption lasts for between 1.5 and 5 minutes. The length of its eruption predicts the next one. If it lasts for less than 4 minutes, the next eruption will occur between 40 and 60 minutes later. 4 minutes or longer, and the next eruption will occur between 75 and 100 minutes later. Although it is an amazing sight to see, we came away feeling a bit like we did when we saw the Mona Lisa or the Sistine Chapel. A bit meh. It’s amazing to see and we’re lucky to have seen this wonder of nature but both BattleDad and I felt the Great Fountain Geyser we had seen was much better and more ferocious than Old Faithful. Still, it was one thing ticked off our bucket list.

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Old Faithful erupting for us in the Upper Geyser Basin of Yellowstone National Park
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Old Faithful near the end of it’s eruption behind BattleKid

Before we left the Old Faithful area, we popped over to the Snow Lodge gift shop as they had been holding a hoodie for BattleDad. I got one too and we picked up yet another fridge magnet.

We decided to head for home as it was after 5 and we had at least a thirty-minute drive from West Yellowstone itself. We did get to see our first bison on the drive from Madison to the West Yellowstone gate. BattleKid also enjoyed the drive out of the park as we were escorted by some Harley Davidson motorbikes.

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Bison on the road between Madison and West Yellowstone

We stopped at the grocery store in West Yellowstone again to get some fresh supplies we had decided not to get earlier in the day, such as meat, eggs and milk. As we’d had a big meal at 3pm, we decided just to have snacks at home. BattleKid didn’t nap at all, which I was surprised about and kept going until we put him to bed at 8pm. BattleDad and I had a cuppa with some donuts before turning in ourselves. What a first day in Yellowstone!

Cath x

USA Road Trip Holiday Diaries – Day 2

Thanks to jetlag we were all awake by 5am so, after packing up and getting dressed, we were on the road by 6am. It felt very like the morning we left Santander bound for Portugal. We drove for about an hour before stopping to fill the car in a town called Ritzville.

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The sunset over Washington state on the morning of our big miles day in the car

It was here we discovered that the Americans have switched the colour code on the fuel nozzles! BattleDad couldn’t understand why the black nozzle wasn’t working. He had prepaid in the garage, as seems to be the norm in America, and nothing was coming out of the nozzle. It also wasn’t marked as gasoline or diesel. Then for some reason he thought he’d try the green nozzle, normally for petrol in Europe. Lo and behold, fuel started coming out of it. I panicked then, thinking he was filling the car with the wrong fuel. But nope, the nozzle colours are the opposite way in America! So, you’ve all been warned.

Across the highway we spotted a diner so headed across in the hope they were open for breakfast. The Ritz Roadhouse Diner was your very typical America Diner and we were quietly chuffed as it was exactly what we had hoped for. Breakfast was good, but with huge portions as you can expect, and was reasonably priced. I drove the car from here for about 150 miles. This day was going to be all about sharing the driving as we had 606 miles to cover.

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Quietly ready to set off for Yellowstone. Note I adjusted his seat belt before we drove off!

We drove passed a place called Coeur d’Alene, and the most amazing looking lake. I couldn’t sight see as much as I wanted, being behind the wheel, but the lake and its surrounding hills and roads was just stunning. The roads we were on were exactly what we had imagined and hoped for on our USA road trip. BattleDad and I were like two Cheshire cats with massive grins on our faces. So far so good for our holiday of a lifetime. BattleKid just quietly took it all in.

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My first drive in America!

Our next stop for a toilet break was the 50000 Silver Dollar rest stop, just inside Montana state. This shop, bar, restaurant, casino and gas station was started in 1952 and is a sight to see. We bought a Montana fridge magnet for our travel collection, and BattleKid got a car, another one to add to his ever-growing collection. After using the restrooms, we headed East again with BattleDad behind the wheel.

Missoula was our next stop for lunch. This town is located right beside Lolo, which was going to be our in-between stop on our return trip from Yellowstone. BattleDad had spotted a Five Guys sign on the junction sign and decided we were having burgers for lunch. That is one thing I loved about America highways. Although the UK has started to do the same, the Americans highlight the services, hotels and cafes/restaurants on their highway signs before each junction so you know before coming to it what is available off each junction.

BattleDad had been hankering after a Five Guys burger for ages but we’d never had the chance before, so he wasn’t going to miss the opportunity. We stopped and each tucked into tasty burgers and large portions of fries. We agreed we needed to re-evaluate our orders to take into account the size of American portions from here on in.

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Smokey Montana
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Fueled after a Five Guys burger and ready to hit the road again

With 260 miles to go, BattleDad drove some more until we stopped just as we pulled off I-90 to fill up. I took over the driving from here and this was the first time we saw signs for Yellowstone National Park. The excitement was building and we knew we were getting close to our destination.

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Getting ever closer

Not long after leaving the gas station, we had to stop on the road to let a herd of cows pass us. I kid you not. We had seen a girl stopped on the side of the road waving a flag but didn’t think she was the warning sign until we turned a corner to come up against a wall of cows. BattleKid was a bit perplexed at the cows roaming by the car.

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Cows, like I said!

We finally arrived at our AirBnB log cabin in the woods in Island Park at 7pm. BattleKid had fallen asleep so we lay him on the couch while we unpacked our car. We got him into his pj’s and into bed before sitting down with a cuppa. We were both wrecked after a long day of driving, 12 hours in total (we lost an hour crossing a time zone from Washington into Montana) and were in bed ourselves at 8.30pm.

BattleKid woke at 2.30am, jetlag catching up with him, and he rolled beside me until he finally nodded off somewhere nearer to 5am. He didn’t sleep long as he was awake again at 7am.

Cath x

 

USA Road Trip Holiday Diaries – Day 1

After a thoroughly enjoyable family day in London, I woke up at 7.10am and got myself quietly washed and dressed. The boys woke at 7.45am and while they got themselves airplane ready, I packed away our clothes and the few little souvenirs we’d bought in London. We checked out and got the airport shuttle bus across to Terminal 3. The bus only cost us £4.50 each, with BattleKid going free, plus they are very regular.

We checked in for our flight to Portland by 9am, and quickly got rid of our bags before heading through security. This was pretty quick too, which surprised me and we were sat in the Oriel Grande Brasserie, ordering breakfast by 9.30am.usa road trip day 1 holiday diaries

This was a lovely restaurant where kids ate free and we all tucked into tasty breakfasts. Our flight wasn’t due to board until 11.30 so we got Water and snacks in Boots, and some extras and a magazine in WHSmith. We then hit Dixons as BattleDad wanted to upgrade his headphones to the Bose Q25’s and I was on the hunt for a zoom lens to bring with us. I had ordered a Canon 70-300mm lens for my DSLR but it hadn’t arrived to us in Portugal before we left. Snail mail at its best! There was a Tamron 16-300mm Canon-compatible lens in Dixons so I bought that, hoping it would work out for shooting wildlife in Yellowstone. We also got some flight pillows for BattleDad and I in the hope they would allow us to get some sleep on the plane.

The kids play area with BattleKid was next on the agenda, the idea being he could run off some energy before our 11-hour flight. This was to be our longest flight with him to date and I must admit I was a little nervous. We had flown for 7 hours to New York last September, and he had done very well then. He had about 15 minutes in there before the gate for our flight was announced. A last-minute toilet stop and we were ready to board our flight.

Although we had booked our flights via Virgin Atlantic, we were then able upgrade to Economy Plus seats direct with Delta and at the time they were not overly expensive. Our flight took off on time at 12.30pm and we were finally bound for Portland, almost 11 months after first booking our flights.

Within 30 minutes of take-off, BattleKid announced he needed the toilet, again! The seat belt sign was still illuminated and we started to panic, thinking surely the pilot is going to switch it off at any moment. In the end we had to buzz a stewardess who very kindly said we could leave our seats, in her words “you’ve got to do what you’ve got to do for your young man, so no problem at all”. She was so lovely and I’m gutted I didn’t make a note of her name. She came across as very caring American mom. Moments after the boys returned from the toilet the light went off. Typical.

We had lunch at 2pm which was quite nice. BattleKid ate well and I was hoping he’d nap. No such luck. My entertainment touchscreen wasn’t working properly so by 3pm I gave up. I read, wrote blog notes and napped instead.

After a nice flight that was pretty uneventful we arrived in Portland at 2.30pm local time, almost an hour ahead of schedule. We cleared customs and immigration by 3pm and headed to Hertz to collect our car. The first Ford Expedition we were given had a flat tyre! Thankfully there was another in the parking lot and we loaded up our gear and set off bound for Richland, Washington, at 4.30pm.

We headed onto I-84 and passed Mount Hood and signs for Multnomah Falls. This was on our agenda for our return trip to Portland. Our mission was to get to Richland and into bed ready for a mammoth drive the next day.

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Our first glimpse of Mount Hood from I-84

BattleKid fell asleep soon after we left Portland and I kept him as comfortable as possible by sitting beside him and supporting his head. We arrived in Richland at 7pm and checked into our hotel, the TownPlace Suites by Marriott.

We put BattleKid into bed and I was close behind him, shattered from a long day. BattleDad was hungry so went and got food before being in bed himself by 9pm.usa road trip day 1 holiday diaries

BattleKid woke just after 3am but I managed to keep him quiet until 5am when we were all awake. Thanks jet lag! We got dressed and packed up, ready to hit the road to Yellowstone!

Cath x

USA Road Trip 2017

Tomorrow on the blog starts our Holiday Diaries of our USA Road Trip which we started at the end of August. And what a trip it turned out to be. From amazing Yellowstone, to smokey Missoula, to hip and trendy Portland, we saw it all. We had a great time, all three of us, and we have some amazing memories and photos to look back on.

It was a brilliant two weeks. We unplugged in Yellowstone and thoroughly enjoyed seeing mother nature at her rawest. We dodged the fires and smoke in Montana to still enjoy ourselves seeing some places we would otherwise have missed during our stay there. Although our original plans didn’t come about we still had a great time. And once our long drives were done, we chilled and had relaxing family time in Portland, enjoying a city we’d always wanted to visit. 

And from tomorrow I start sharing our days with you. Some are a little less exciting than others, as we did drive 3000 miles over 60 hours during our two weeks in Northwest America, but other days were just out of this world. I still have much more detail on each of our destinations along the way I want to share with you, but those posts are still being written up. So for now, I hope you’ll come along on our daily journey diaries of our incredible USA Road Trip Holiday.