Tips & Tricks to help you plan your next adventure
Where oh where do I start on our incredible 16 day road trip around the mid west of USA.. I guess at the beginning would be best, although I’d really love to skip ahead and tell you about the 4 Grizzly bears we saw.. But more on that later.
So here goes!
From Guatemala we headed to the USA to begin our National Park road trip. As you can imagine it was a little bit of a change seeing the incredible and perhaps just a tiny-bit-over-the-top lights of Vegas after 9 months in Latin America.
Heading to the USA was a bit of a last minute decision (we booked it about 3 weeks before we arrived). We both wanted a little change of scenery and really wanted to check out Yellowstone and many of the surrounding national parks. As we were over this side of the world we thought we might as well do it whilst we were here. It was going to put us a little over budget but you’ve really got to grab these opportunities when they arise.
After arriving in vegas we spent one day on the outskirts of the strip getting all the goodies we needed for our road trip. Due to the rush we didn’t get a chance to show off our gambling skills and bankrupt a casino, which would have to wait for our return at the end of the road trip.
We had booked a JUCY van for 16 nights and were planning to head up to Yellowstone and then make our way back down via lots of Utah and Arizona’s national parks.
The JUCY vans come complete with 2 double beds (one inside, and one in a "penthouse" on top of the car) and a kitchen, complete with 2 gas burners, a fridge and a sink! It is absolutely perfect for 2 - 4 people who want the convenience of an RV, without having to attempt to manoeuvre those huge things around and fork out lots of cash for the crazy amount of fuel they consume!
Saturday morning we picked up our van from the lovely and incredibly friendly Nicole (Have fun in NZ Nicole!!), the manager at Jucy’s Las Vegas branch and after a super quick demo of how to set things up we headed off.
Day 1: Saturday - Las Vegas to Salt Lake City
First things first, our journey begun with Sean getting used to the whole driving on the right side of the road thing.. I know that us Aussie’s are the minority on this one (why do we drive on the left..?) He picked this up pretty quickly and before we knew it we’d made it to a Walmart to pick up all the goodies and food we’d need for the next little while.
We drove for roughly 400 miles to Salt Lake City, we googled free camping spots and luckily found one frequented by long haul truckers on the side of a fairly well lit road.
Day 2: Sunday - Salt Lake City to Yellowstone National Park
After 6 or 7 hours of sleep we got up at 4am and headed off nice and early as we had another 400 odd miles ahead of us. We stopped for breakfast and a couple of bathroom breaks before arriving at Yellowstone. Unbeknownst to us it was Labour day weekend. We still have no idea what Labour day is for, but basically it's a public holiday long weekend in the USA for everyone playing back home. Resultantly the park was very busy and there was a super long traffic jam at the gate to get in. Luckily we’d already booked our camping accommodation at Grant Village
As we finally entered the park, the heavy traffic remained... We both were thinking "what gives?" The speed limit throughout majority of yellowstone is 45 miles per hour, so plodding along at 5mph was ridiculous. Eventually after a couple of very slow miles we saw the REAL reason for the traffic. A family of Elk cruising along the river right next to the road. They were beautiful! But were also the cause of the major slowdown entering the park on top of the heavy traffic as everyone tried to slow down to snap some photos of this amazing scene. This was our introduction to traffic jams National Park style, a hilarious but legitimate cause of traffic problems in US national parks.
Ae we continued into the park we came across tens of buffalo, multiple squirrels (so cute) and loads of warning about bears!
Being bear aware meant that all food and scented items, including soaps, perfumes, cosmetics etc had to be stored in the car or in one of the campsite provided bear boxes. Being bear aware was totally new to us as we only have Koala bears at home. I'm pretty sure Koalas aren't actually bears, and I'm very sure that in the middle of the night they don't tear open the tent you're sleeping in, in the search for a water bottle that smells slightly of food because you had a sip of water from it whilst eating dinner 6 hours previously. This is a legitimate problem we're not even joking slightly about. And people think Australians have dangerous creatures. I mean no one has to carry around snake or spider mace...
That afternoon we were pretty pooped so we explored around the Grant Village area, took a walk around part of Lake Yellowstone and retired to bed early.
Day 3: Monday - Old Faithful Area, Yellowstone National Park
We woke up around 7am. It was both freezing and really dark. After a relatively slow start (I can’t really function in weather below 15 degrees celcius… let alone below zero) we literally chipped the icicles off the inside of the windshield and headed to the famous Old Faithful area of the park. We had accommodation booked at the Madison Campground for the next 2 nights and luckily for us Old Faithful and a few of Yellowstone’s most famous Geyser Basin areas were situated between these 2 campgrounds.
We spent the afternoon exploring the multiple pools and geysers around "Old Faithful", and went on a little trail to "Biscuit Basin" and a small waterfall just beyond.
That evening we arrived at our Madison campground and had a couple of cheeky bevies watching the sunset followed by a ranger talk on the animals in the park. Perfection!
Day 4: Tuesday - The Grand Canyon of Yellowstone
The next day we headed off early to the Grand Canyon area of Yellowstone. Although it’s not quite as large as the actual Grand Canyon it’s still bloody impressive! And beautiful.
Sean and I did a few hikes around the rim, down to the falls and checked out a few back country trails.
Thanks to our trusty JUCY van we were even able to whip up some sambo’s for lunch on the side of the road between hikes!
That evening we had our showers and headed out to Hayden Valley, a part of the park well known for spotting wildlife, particularly at dawn and dusk.
At the very first pull over spot we arrived at in the valley, a man came up to us and asked if we had seen the Grizzly. "Bearly" containing my excitement I said no, and asked where?! He pointed it out to us. It was a fair way off in the distance, but we could see it really clearly through the zoom on the camera, and multiple people had binoculars and scopes that they happily let us borrow to take a look at the incredible creature.
We went back to camp at Madison not believing our luck. A grizzly!
Day 5: Wednesday - Norris Geyser Basin, Mammoth Hot Springs & Lamar Valley
The next morning we woke up and Sean was feeling a little under the weather. We drove to the Norris area and had a short explore around the geothermal area, including a giant "fumarole" which is kind of like a geyser but with less water so it looks like a gigantic kettle spout.
Here we also had a great ranger talk about distinguishing between the 2 types of bears in the park (Grizzlies and Black Bears). We also learnt about animal safety. That's safety not just for us, but also for the animals who being wild means they aren't always great with human interaction.
After this we headed to Mammoth, the northern most visitors centre. We explored the amazing little museum here and got a bite to eat for lunch, before ducking out of the park to the neighbouring town of Gardiner to stock up on some more supplies.
We then went for a little drive into the Lamar valley around dusk to search for some other large predators. Alas, no luck here but we did see some gigantic herds of bison right next to the road as well as some males rutting despite this being at the end of their breeding season.
We headed back to the Canyon campground for some dinner and our last night in the park.
Next Stop... Grand Teton National Park