September 13, 2021
All good things must come to an end… my 2021 “big adventure” and my week of avoiding my “real life” was over and it was time to pack up camp and head back to the opposite corner of Wyoming – an eight hour journey! (Wyoming is big, and Yellowstone is NOT “in my backyard”!)
Adding to my melancholy was the fact that the weather had finally taken a turn for the colder side of things, and I’m a sucker for cold weather camping. I awoke to a blistering 31 degrees Fahrenheit on the thermometer as I debated for the hundredth time on if I really needed my job and if I really needed to head back to the stunning scenery of Cheyenne. After record high temperatures earlier in my trip, I felt slighted (it would snow about a week or so after my trip in Yellowstone, adding to the insult). I finally slinked out of my sleeping bag and took to breaking down camp.
I would backtrack south to Yellowstone Lake and then head east over Sylvan Pass to Cody, where my trip began many days earlier. This would be a new route for me, and it won out over exiting through Grand Teton National Park, the Jackson Hole hoards, and a hot pot soak south of Jackson, which would’ve been an extremely long day (and not worth the hot pot soak really).
Naturally, I just couldn’t drive straight out of Yellowstone, so stops were made to photograph Hayden Valley and Steamboat Point, a delightful geothermal area on the shores of Yellowstone. It takes me forever to drive anywhere in Yellowstone, I’ll admit it!
Steamboat Point is a wee geothermal area on the east side of Yellowstone Lake in the Mary Bay area that is home to the planet’s largest hydrothermal explosion crater. There are a few large pullouts where one can pull off to admire the thermal features and the great views of Yellowstone Lake.
Okay, Heidi… enough of the thermal stuff…
I took the chance to drive the steep road up to Lake Butte Overlook, which provides a panoramic view over Yellowstone Lake and surrounding areas. Well worth the extra ten minutes if you ask me!
I passed the trailhead for Avalanche Peak, and felt a tug of sadness as I did want to summit this peak, but it is not recommended to hike it in September due to the bears stocking up on pine nuts in the area, so it was scratched from my itinerary. I fought back against the draw of summit fever, and celebrated I made it this entire trip without a bear encounter. Next time, right? (Next time for the summit, not a bear encounter… to clarify…)
One last pit stop was made at Sylvan Lake to enjoy the fall colors and still water, and then it was time to go up and over the pass and drop down to the east entrance gate.
I pulled over for one last sign photo, as the “backside” of the entrance sign is printed with “Leaving…” I made it through some photos other travelers offered to take for me, got back in my car, and promptly started ugly crying as I headed down the highway. I was actually pretty devastated to be leaving, and re-entering the world of texts, calls, work emails, social media, the news… all the things I remained (mostly) free of for eight days. I think I cried 20-30 minutes solid as I headed back to Cody and waited a little awhile longer to take the phone off of airplane mode and let the world come rushing back in.
It was smooth sailing home, with quick gas stops in Cody and Casper, and just a slight construction delay in the Wind River Canyon (which is just about one of the best places in the world scenery wise to be stuck in construction!). I arrived back in Laramie to my joyous cat and parents who are always thankful I returned safe and sound from my latest crazy idea. I didn’t hesitate to slide into the shower for the first time in over a week, washing off the grime that Venture Wipes did their best to alleviate. I struggled to sleep that night in the comfort of a memory foam-topped mattress and stuffy indoor air… I think I heard my tent whimpering in the car. I almost debated setting it up on the front yard…
What a solid adventure I had! I’m still blown away that people will “visit” Yellowstone for one day (as beautiful as the parking lots and highways are… are they really seeing anything?!). With my second trip in one year under my belt, and about twelve days (eleven nights) spent between the two trips, I still feel like I have barely scratched the surface of what Yellowstone has to offer – Belcher Meadows and the entire southwestern corner is still untouched by me, and I still have so many geysers to chase!
One thing that is making Yellowstone tough to keep returning to, aside from it being farther away from my house than Iceland is by plane, is the visitor numbers. September 2021 broke attendance records, just like in previous months. I made my camping reservations in March for my September trip, which takes a lot of foresight and planning so far in advance. I’m a planner, so I’m not bothered by planning per se, but it is a bit of commitment to make when I keep discovering new adventures to have all in all sorts of corners of the U.S., and I’m becoming more spontaneous with my plans. And I can’t just necessarily pop up to the park for an impromptu trip. Also, I don’t go to national parks to sit in 45 minute long traffic jams, and that was a bit of a downer to my experience at times. I think if I was to return sometime soon, I’d consider late fall (because after Labor Day in September is still way too crowded!) for the tradeoff of snow and freezing temperatures and less daylight. But for right now I have a lot of new adventures I want to tackle before falling back on the old habits, if that makes sense!
Nevertheless, I can’t believe what a special place we have in this little corner of Wyoming!