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News you can use about traveling to Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming with kids or friends.

Free days for Yellowstone and all national parks

Categories: Geysers, Trip planning
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The National Park Service tells us there are five more days in 2013 when entrance into all 59 of the national parks will be free “as a way to encourage people to get outdoors and enjoy the remarkable landscapes and historical and cultural sites national parks have to offer.”

If you live close enough to take advantage of this or can schedule a trip to Yellowstone for one of these days, you can save the $25 per carload fee on the following weekend dates:

  • August 25 for the National Park Service birthday
  • September 28 for National Public Lands Day
  • November 9 to 11 for Veterans Day holiday weekend.

If only I could join you on the benches at Great Fountain Geyser or get to see one of this summer’s amazing dual eruptions of Fountain and Morning Geysers!

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Spring begins in Yellowstone Park

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Hooray! Most of Yellowstone’s roads are open as of today [April 26, 2013], and you can even find places to have a meal. Besides that, the Old Faithful Geyser Webcam is beginning to show predictions of eruptions. However, there are no campgrounds, hotels, or cabins available until next week, except for the Mammoth Campground, which stays open all year.

Geyser gazers can begin their yearly vigils at such wonderful but unreliable geysers as Fan and Mortar, Oblong, Fountain, and—dare we hope?—Giant.
For the opening schedule of all facilities see:
Opening and Closing Dates of Facilities.
For webcams directed toward Old Faithful and elsewhere see: www.nps.gov/yell/photosmultimedia/webcams.htm.

 

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West Yellowstone is not to be outdone

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In the ongoing saga about rescuing Yellowstone’s early spring season, the town of West Yellowstone at the West Entrance is entering the fray.

The town grader and operator were sent to assist with the removal of ice and snow under the direction of the National Park Service on Monday. This means it looks highly likely that the West Entrance will open on Friday, April 26 [2013], after all.

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Yellowstone’s roads to open on time after all

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Private funds have come to the aid of Yellowstone Park’s beleaguered superintendent, who had announced a two-week delay in the spring opening of the park’s roads. The Cody Chamber of Commerce and the Jackson Town Council have raised the needed cash to assist the park by plowing roads through the East and South Entrances beginning next month.

Early vacationers will be able access Old Faithful from the west and north beginning April 26, 2013, and Canyon from the east on May 3. In addition, the South Entrance should open as originally planned on May 10. The Chief Joseph Scenic Byway will open June 14. No announcement has yet been made about the opening of the Beartooth Highway.

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Yellowstone’s hotels will remain in good hands

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Good news arrived in my inbox first thing this morning [February 2013]! Xanterra Parks and Resorts will continue to manage the hotels, restaurants, and some activities in Yellowstone.

I have known the concessionaire contract was up for renewal but not exactly when a new one would be awarded. As a yearly (or oftener) visitor to the park, I’ve had nothing but good experiences with Xanterra, and I find they keep getting better. Rooms are always clean and equipped as promised, restaurant food has been getting better, and their personnel is pleasant, helpful, and seems content to be working there. Many of the seasonal help return summer after summer.
Xanterra has also embarked on making the park greener, with recycling, serving locally obtained food products when possible, and other worthwhile projects. A major part of their new contract involves redevelopment of the dilapidating cabins at Canyon. Hooray!

An excellent article about Xanterra’s new contract by Ruffin Prevost appears at:
http://www.yellowstonegate.com/2013/02/park-service-chooses-xanterra-for-20year-yellowstone-concessions-contract/

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Reading the news that eight national park lodges have recently [2012] joined the Historic Hotels of America program caused me to reminisce about my experiences with the ones I’ve stayed in—that is, all but three of them. And this made me think of a little notebook I still have, where at the age of eleven I began an alphabetical list of U.S. states and the places in them I’d like to visit.

I don’t know what inspired me to start that list or where I got my information, but over half a century later it’s fun to see what’s on the list and how many of the places I’ve seen. Not surprisingly, most of the ones I’ve visited are in the west, where I’ve traveled the most.

Old Faithful Inn in the snow

Old Faithful Inn (Winter 2006)

The historic national park lodges I have not stayed in are Bright Angel at Grand Canyon, Crater Lake, and Zion, although I’ve been to those parks. My memories of the others are strong and always positive, beginning with Yellowstone’s Old Faithful Inn (opened in 1904), which I think of as my second home.

Yellowstone and the Grand Canyon are the only parks that sport two and three historic lodges respectively. The other one at Yellowstone is Lake Hotel (1891), where I’ve enjoyed several stays. Sometime in the 1990s then-concessionaire TW Services seems to have decided that changing the name to Lake Yellowstone Hotel would draw more visitors or have more cachet, but I refuse to drop its historic name.

I’ve most recently added El Tovar (1905) at Grand Canyon to those I’ve visited. Last May I enjoyed two pleasant nights and spent the days viewing the canyon from its many color-rich overlooks. In the Grand Canyon I’ve also stayed at Phantom Ranch (1922)—unquestionably the most difficult to access; the steep descent to the bottom of the canyon on a hot summer’s day was a feat I won’t tackle again.

Furnace Creek Inn

Furnace Creek Inn

Next to Old Faithful Inn, the other favorite I would happily stay in for months at a time (but who could afford it?) is Furnace Creek Inn (1927) in Death Valley National Park. Their beautiful terraced garden descending along a trickling creek shaded by huge palm trees is almost unbelievable in such a desert. The rooms are not exceptional, but the garden and my favorite swimming pool anywhere are the greatest.

In recent years I’ve visited Crater Lake and Zion National Parks but missed out on their inns (opened in 1915 and the 1920s, respectively). I tried to book rooms in both but called too late to get a reservation.

For the National Parks Traveler’s interesting article on these inns, see http://www.nationalparkstraveler.com/2012/11/eight-national-park-lodges-join-historic-hotels-america10765.

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Call up for Old Faithful Geyser!

Categories: Geysers, Trip planning
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Did you know you can not only see Old Faithful erupt on your computer screen but can call on your phone to learn when the next eruption is predicted to take place? Of course, cell phone use is iffy in the park, but Verizon phones seem to do better than most other types (and I have AT&T, which works in some parts of the park).

If you want to try it, call (307) 344-2751. You’ll get the Old Faithful Visitor Education Center and then be instructed to dial “one” for the geyser prediction time. To watch the eruption on your computer, use: http://www.nps.gov/archive/yell/oldfaithfulcam.htm.

Of course, when I’m in the park I’d rather know when Great Fountain or Grand Geyser is going to erupt, since those are my favorites. I’ll be going that way again in a couple of weeks. Counting the days!

August 2012

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Winter plans when it’s still early summer

Categories: News, On the Web, Transportation, Trip planning, Winter
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My deadline with the copyeditor of Yellowstone, Land of Wonders having been met, I am free to catch up on all the current Yellowstone news.

Unlike other western areas this month [June 2012], no fires threaten the park yet, but it is still early, and if drought and heat continue there will certainly be danger.

While we watch the summer scene, some people are thinking about the winter one, and a long and excellent article appeared this week about the still-unsettled plan for snowmobile and snowcoach access next winter. You can find all the details at: http://www.yellowstonegate.com/2012/06/yellowstone-draft-winteruse-plan-allows-110-transportation-events-daily-keeps-sylvan-pass-open.

Scroll down on that site for a list of all the documents on winter use since discussion began in 2000.
In brief: a plan preferred by the park service has been put forth that states that there may be “a maximum of 480 snowmobiles in the park” but “the average maximum use would be 342 snowmobiles per day.” It gets more complicated from there on and now calls what were “sound events,” “transportation events.” An improvement in language?

Some groups of snowmobiles led by unpaid guides would be allowed in each day, in addition to professionally guided tours. The East Entrance over Sylvan Pass (always a controversial subject) would remain open in winter.

Public meetings on the subject will be held in mid July, and comments from the public will be received for 45 days.

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Yellowstone grizzlies know it’s spring

Categories: Trip planning, Wildlife
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If you know and love the Yellowstone area and the wild mountain country around it, you may have your own bear stories. But you’ve survived to tell them, and two of last year’s hikers did not. Now it’s the season when bears emerge from their dens, and the memory of last summer’s two fatal attacks by grizzlies in central Yellowstone is still fresh.

This month the Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee and Yellowstone National Park have released their detailed reports, and the park is initiating major efforts to increase bear awareness and encourage the use of bear spray by backcountry hikers.

An excellent report on last summer’s grizzly-caused deaths and the recommendations of the study group appeared on March 20th [2012] in the High Country News Range Blog:
http://www.hcn.org/hcn/blogs/range/rethinking-recreation-in-grizzly-country. If you’re planning to take hikes away from the most popular sights and routes in or around Yellowstone, you need to prepare by reading such reports and follow the associated advice.

As for me—I admit that I stay within a few miles of the roads and always hike with small groups of friends or family. I’ve had a healthy fear of bears since early childhood. Of course, my bear stories are pretty tame as a result.

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More tips for a great vacation

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6. Be aware that Yellowstone’s roads are slow, often full of potholes, and that some are currently undergoing construction.
7. Plan to be on the roads early and late in the day. Avoid crowds by traveling on the main roads between 10 am and 5 pm whenever possible.
8. Take binoculars or a spotting scope as well as your camera, especially for animal watching.
9. Prepare the kids: watch videos, read from Yellowstone Treasures and other books about the area or about the animals, tell them how different it will be (wild animals, staying outdoors, no TV). Let them do some of the planning.
10. When at Old Faithful Village, be sure to see the Visitor Education Center and check at their ranger desk for eruption times for the five predictable geysers in addition to Old Faithful Geyser. Seeing them and beautiful hot springs near them can be really rewarding.

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