This is the third in a series of posts about my LA to Chicago road trip, Aug 20-29.
From Grand Teton, we drove straight north to Yellowstone National Park. As soon as we entered the park, we saw two bison walking along the road. We took it as a sign that adventure awaited us.
We went to Old Faithful first, because that’s just what you do in Yellowstone. I expected it to be equal parts boring and annoying, if not outright unpleasant like seeing the Mona Lisa in the Louvre, but it was surprisingly cool. The viewing area around Old Faithful and the visitors center are well designed to afford the best views to the largest number of people. We had a front row seat to the 11:30am eruption.
After Old Faithful, we spent the rest of the afternoon driving through the park, hitting the major sites on the route between the south and east entrance to the park, going north to Madison, then over to Norris and Canyon Village, then south to Lake Village before leaving Yellowstone. Our favorite stops were at the Firehole River, Artist’s Paintpots, the falls at Yellowstone Canyon, and the herd of bison between Canyon and Lake Villages.
There were definitely a lot of cool things to see in the park, but I didn’t love Yellowstone the way I loved Grand Teton. The park is just too big to see in a short trip without driving everywhere, and the hiking trails aren’t drawn on the main map because of the difference in scale between the park and individual hikes. It felt like you had to know what you were doing before you arrived, if you wanted to hike Yellowstone. I’d love to go back sometime, but overall my experience in Yellowstone, driving for hours and only getting out of the car to take pictures, left me feeling restless.
Luckily, I had a chance to shake off my restlessness later that evening. Our plan was to drive straight from Yellowstone to a motel in Casper, WY. We passed through Cody, Wyoming, the closest town to the east of the park, around dinner time and Googled things to do in town out of curiosity. We found out that Cody is famous for its nightly rodeo, so of course we had to check it out.
The rodeo was entertaining and eye-opening. We prayed, we sang the National Anthem, we watched grown men flop around on the backs of enraged broncos. It was as fun and ridiculous as it sounds – the closest I was going to get to an “authentic” American West experience, whatever that means. I enjoyed most of the events, and it was interesting to see how much the cowboys and cowgirls cared for their animals. My East Coast/West Coast sensibilities make me suspicious of potentially cruel games or activities involving animals, but it was pretty clear the participants knew and loved the horses, calves, steers, and bulls used in the rodeo. It was a good reminder to me to be less judgmental and reconsider some of my poorly informed assumptions.
The rodeo ended at 10pm, and then I drove the remaining 3 hours to Casper – a long but pretty awesome day.