I’ve put off writing about my first and only travel adventure this year, for numerous reasons. The first being that it didn’t go accordingly and was cut short because of a loss in my family that I’ve spent a great amount of time mourning, the second being that this year, and more specifically this last month has been a whirlwind and it didn’t make much sense to write a travel blog inspiring others to travel during a shelter in place order, and lastly because I’ve held this last adventure close to my heart knowing that travel has been put off for the unforeseen future.
If this down time has taught me anything, its elevated my gratitude for having had the opportunity to travel to the places I have been, and now will forever change how I travel in the future.
Jon, (my friend that I met doing a volunteer program in Africa) and I planned a 12-day trip through the Pacific North West. We were meeting each other in Denver, and then planned to road trip through Wyoming, Montana and back through Colorado.
After about a month of loosely planning what we were going to do and where we were going to stay, we packed all the warm layers we had and both flew into Denver. This was one of my first road trips during the winter aside from trips specific to snowboarding.
Jon picked me up at the airport in our rental car, and we headed straight for Wyoming. For those of you that don’t know, it’s a nearly 9-hour drive. Thank god for good playlists, and Jon’s, Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader book (We’re not, FYI), because most of that drive is very flat, and during the winter very white.
Everything was smooth sailing until we reached Jackson, Wyoming. It was now pitch black outside, and we drove straight into a blizzard that I believe closed down the pass after we went through. It was one of the most emotional drives I’ve ever done. You could not see the car in front of you. Luckily and unluckily for us, as we drove up the pass, a giant snowplow truck was in front of us. Unluckily only because it was so hard to see anything with the snow coming in at an angle, along with bright flashing lights from the truck that left us both with a headache. It guided us right up until the pass turned to a decline. We were both so relieved to see clearly again, but also left with anxiety that we were now guiding a line of cars through unplowed snow. As soon as the plow left the lead, I received a call from my cousin regarding my uncles health declining. She informed me that my family was in the hospital next to his bedside and he was in bad shape. She told me to enjoy my trip for the time being and would keep me posted on his wellbeing.
My anxiety ran high driving this frightening drive and worrying about my family.
We decided to get an AirBnb in Victor Idaho, only about 45 minutes outside of Jackson Hole because it was much cheaper to go that route. We found a really cool cabin right in the town of Victor. A good thing to know about these small towns, is that everything closes down REALLY early. We ended up eating bar food 10 minutes before the kitchen closed in the town over called, Driggs, because everything was already closed in Victor. Jon’s review- The Royal Wolf in Driggs Idaho has the best fries he’s ever had. My review- the truffle fries did not disappoint and it made me proud to be an Idaho girl, knowing our potatoes blew the socks off a New Yorkers feet!
The next morning, we drove back over the pass to Jackson to check out the town and rent our ski gear for the next day. I was given a recommendation to do the National Elk Refuge tour and I highly recommend it to you too!
It runs 4 times an hour, from 10am-4pm. You have to meet at the Jackson Hole visitor center in town and tickets are on a first come first served basis. The prices are $25 for adults and free for children 5 and under. Sleigh rides are obviously only available during the winter season. I am so glad we went during this time of year. It was a short ride on a bus from the visitor center to the sleighs. About 15 of us piled into a horse draw sleigh with cozy wool blankets and were pulled into a massive field where thousands of elk were huddled together in the middle. You will want to bundle up for this one. It was frigid the day we went even with the additional blankets that were supplied.
We had such a knowledgeable guide who blew me away, knowing this was her first season there. Thousands of elk migrate to this refuge every winter season, and are protected against disease and are fed while their normal food source is covered in snow. It is such a cool day trip to take if you’re in the Jackson area.https://persephonebakery.com/pages/menu
We checked out a couple ski rental shops in town and settled on Teton Village sports. It made the most sense to rent gear at Jackson Hole Resort so we wouldn’t have to drive back into Jackson to pick up/return it, and I believe it was also cheaper than the shops in Jackson. They have performance and demo gear, and awesome staff to make it a quick process. https://www.tetonvillagesports.com/jackson-hole-ski-rentals/
We geared up and headed to the Jackson Hole ski resort pretty early. The lifts don’t open until 9am, but if you arrive too late, parking goes into overflow parking that will leave you having to wait for a shuttle, followed by a 20 minute ride to the resort. It’s $30 to park in the parking lot next to the lifts, and in my opinion it’s worth it.
Jackson Hole has some of the best snow I’ve snowboarded yet. I had my doubts going in March, but it was truly a dream. We did every lift there. Rendezvous bowl was my favorite run and seemed like the snow got better each time we did it.
We took the Aerial Tram up to the top of the mountain and it was nothing what I expected. We were sardined into this gondola, standing, with our ski gear with 100 other people. The wind was blowing so the gondola was swaying. It takes you up to 10,450 feet in elevation in 9 minutes. As soon as we reached the top, I immediately made my decision that I would NOT be snowboarding down, and take the tram back instead. When we exited the tram, the wind was so strong that I could not walk forward with the wind residence on the back of my snowboard. I don’t know that I’ve ever been colder than I was just from the walk from the tram to Corbet’s Cabin. Corbet’s cabin is known for “world famous gourmet waffles”. It’s nice to have a destination point when taking this shaky gondola up the mountain when you chicken out skiing down. Corbet’s waffles did not disappoint. I ordered the Strawberry, but Jon’s “The Trad” was arguably better. They are worth the trip up.
We took the tram back down, and it blew my mind actually getting to see how massive this mountain was, without 100 other people in the gondola to block the view. It’s absolutely remarkable.
We skied the entire day. For how expensive it is for a day pass, I recommend exhausting the hours since it’s only open from 9-4pm. This is probably my favorite ski resort I’ve boarded at yet.
The following day, we had nothing planned except for taking our time while making our way to West Yellowstone. We went back to Persephone Bakery in Jackson for a lesser buffet version of what we ordered before. As soon as I placed my order, I got a much-dreaded call from my cousin. I walked outside and melted down on a bench while she explained that my uncle Eli had passed a half hour ago and was warmly surrounded by family. I couldn’t move from that spot because my body went into shock. It was one of those moments where you are thankful they aren’t in pain any longer, and are simultaneously angry about never getting to hug them again. I immediately wept and felt sorrow for my poor aunt. I’ve never in my life, seen a more pure example of love, than theirs. Their love was undeniably respectful, kind, gentle, affectionate, thoughtful, equal, and unconditional. My heart broke for my aunt.
Jon got our food to go, and loaded me up into the car. I talked to my family determining when to come home. As soon as my uncle passed, my whole family went to be alongside my aunt, and there was nowhere else in the world I would have rather been, than with her as well.
Jon had booked a snowmobiling excursion through Yellowstone National Park the following day. I was convinced to stay that extra day to have some nature therapy, and I’m so glad I did.
This was my favorite day of the trip. We started at Yellowstone Vacation Tours. You can wear your own warm clothes, but I highly suggest paying the $17 more to rent their full body snow wear and helmet. I know I would have frozen my booty off if I had just worn my own layers. It’s a guided tour and you’ll likely have 10 other people in your group. We got ALL the emotions of Mother Nature that day. On the way into Yellowstone Park, it was negative temperatures with 60 mph winds. It was hard for me to steer with the elements against me. My anxiety soared as I was trying to keep Jon, along with the people in front and in back of me, safe. We made many stops on the tour to look at the Firehole River, Madison River, many bison, bald eagles, and anything else that came our way. The only reason I didn’t enjoy the stop and go, was because it was so cold getting on and off your snowmobile with the winds and frigid air.
The tour was 9 hours long, with a lunch break stop in the middle. We were moving pretty quickly, because our guide, Cody, was unsure that we would make it through the pass, in the event that they shut it down to traffic because of the high winds. We arrived about 12 minutes before Old Faithful erupted. I remember seeing it as a kid and it seeming so different. Our timing was impeccable the rest of the day. We stopped for lunch at Old Faithful Snow Lodge, which I loved. The food was nothing special and was very expensive, but they hired a full staff of special needs kids and adults. This warmed my heart, and I loved not only that they were employed, but that they all seemed genuinely happy to be working in such a special place.
After lunch, the sun came out. We got a taste of all elements. We took off on our snowmobiles and toured some of the near by colorful hot springs, mudpots and geysers. The rainbow mineral pools, you could stare at for hours because it’s hard to wrap your head around its existence.
We made a stop next to the Firehole river and I felt called to a quick meditation. I sat on the edge of the river and closed my eyes. I felt a strong presence around me that forced me to open my eyes. A bison bull was 15 feet away from me. (If you’re unaware, bison are beautiful creatures, but unpredictable and dangerous. There are more bull attacks than bear attacks in national parks.You always want to have quite a bit of respectful distance from them). I very slowly starting crawling away backwards and rejoined my group. I found a small built up snow ledge that overlooked the river and continued my meditation. My buddy Jon joined me up there overlooking what was one of my favorites views of the day, while the rest of the group was down below. I finished my meditation and got up to join the others. I was about to head off this ledge, when I saw the bison bull was maybe 10 feet away and leaving jumping down into the river as my only escape route. He locked eyes on me, and in my head I said to him “I respect you. This is your land and home and I am merely a visitor. I respect your space and if you allow me, I will leave.” We continued to stare into each other’s eyes for half a minute before I called down to Cody (our guide, and a radical individual) that I was pissing myself and didn’t know what to do. He instructed me to not move at all and take deep breaths. I continued to stare at the bull and tried to assure him the respect I had and he backed up and started down the hill where all the other group members were. Cody quickly got everyone up the hill and we took off on our snowmobiles to the bathrooms for anyone else who hadn’t already gone in that moment. I couldn’t stop thinking about that interaction for the rest of the day. I’ve never been in such a tranquil zen state, followed by immediate fear. Cody had a theory, that I had a deeper connection with the bull which was why he honed in on following me while trying to find peace, but also brought me no harm.
Yellowstone was the very first piece of land considered sacred enough that they made it a national park. All living things are protected and free in Yellowstone. A playground that could be explored, learned about, and still preserved.
As national parks start to open back up, this is one I would love to revisit and see it without snowy conditions.
Jon and I stayed in West Yellowstone. It felt like the pandemic had already happened and a stay at home order was in place. We struggled to find anything open. All the Chinese restaurants were boarded up and closed for the season. As the weather started to warm, places started to close. It all seemed so bizarre to me that they considered it to be warm and I was bundled in two parkas. We finally found something edible to eat, and learned that West Yellowstone is probably not known for their cuisine.
After doing some research, I found that the cheapest place, along with the soonest time, I could fly out was Salt Lake City. We drove the 4-½ hour drive to Salt Lake the following day. It was SO warm there, and sent my body into shock. We had some extra time before I flew out, and were both craving being out of the car, so we went to Antelope Island. I’ve been to Salt Lake many times, but had never heard of Antelope Island. The drive in looks like another planet. You are on a thin, long road and on each side of you is still, flat, water. The mountains reflect in it perfectly, and it’s hard to tell where the mountains start and end. There were roaming bison and antelope on the plains and lots of hiking trails. We got out at the top and did a quick afternoon hike. My headspace was quite clouded from the circumstances of cutting my trip short, and heading back home in a hurry. When I travel, I mentally prepare to be away from home for X amount of days. I wasn’t ready to be home.
I landed back in LA, and my body started to resist it. I went into a depression like state just not ready to be back home. Aside from my uncles passing, my mind body and soul were all thrown off from all of the stress of coming home when I wasn’t prepared to.
Looking back now, all of the timing was so interesting. This all happened about a week before the shelter in place order went into effect. It almost felt as if the universe knew I wouldn’t handle that well either, and was getting me prepared. I’ve always believed everything happens for a reason. Wherever you go, there you are.
I don’t know what travel will look like moving forward, or when it will be accessible again, but I am so gracious to have even had one adventure this year, even if it was cut short. Yellowstone has captivated a piece of my heart.
Amazing blog and photos