I first started going there when I was about four or five years old. Way early in the morning while it was still dark, my grandma would load up a cooler with Shasta pop and bologna sandwiches and put them in the trunk of the car. She would make sure there were plenty of blankets and toys in the back seat before we left. Then we would all pile in and grandpa would back out of the driveway, the gravel crunching underneath the car’s tires.
It was surreal for me to ride through our small town and watch the houses glide past my window in the early morning dawn. Everything was so still and quiet. We would only see one or two other cars on the street as we made our way out of town.
Soon we would be on the two lane highway headed north. I would almost immediately fall asleep amid my toys and stuffed animals. What seemed like just minutes later, but in reality was more like two-and a half hours, we would be pulling into the town of West Yellowstone, Montana and making our way to the entrance of Yellowstone National Park.
There we would spend the day meandering on paved roads through lodge pole pine forests, stopping to see canyons, waterfalls, wildlife, geysers and hot pools. Many stops would be made to gaze at elk, moose, buffalo and bear. Gentle flowing creeks and rivers would be our backdrop as we stopped to enjoy our lunch at one of the many picnic areas alongside the road. Towards evening we would make our way back to West Yellowstone and find a motel room. The next morning after a hearty breakfast at the local coffee shop we would head back home with the promise that we would do it all over again next year.
I never tired of it. The annual trip would be the highlight of my summer when I was growing up.
Last week I took my ten-year-old granddaughter Emily there for the first time. These days you have to make room reservations way in advance in West Yellowstone, which we did. For three days Emily, my wife Diana and I spent our time enjoying the sights and sounds of Yellowstone. For me it was like going back in time. I felt I was passing down to Emily a family treasure which my grandparents passed down to me so many years ago.
I know a lot of you have just retired or are contemplating retirement in the near future. There are many plans and decisions to be made about how you will spend your time. If you have never been to Yellowstone National Park before, don’t put it off. It simply is a trip you must take once you have entered the ranks of retirees.
I have been there about twenty times or more in my life. First as a young boy visiting there with my grandparents. Later, several times as a teen along with my parents and younger brother. Then as a young father and husband with my own family. And now coming full circle as a grandparent sharing the experience with my own grandchildren. It’s almost like a rite of passage. Whenever I hear that someone has never been to Yellowstone I feel like taking them there myself.
If you go and I hope you do, take your time. Don’t be in a rush. Give yourself three or four days to see everything. Over the years I have come to appreciate the beauty and the grandeur of Yellowstone like no other place I’ve ever been. Let me tell you about a few of the highlights.
Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone and Lower Falls
When most people think of Yellowstone they think of Old Faithful geyser and primarily go to see that. But there is another gem within the park’s borders that most tourists aren’t even aware of.
On the eastern side of the park sits a steep V-shaped valley 800 to 1,200 feet deep and 24 miles long. Cut into volcanic rhyolite rock by the rugged Yellowstone River, the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone boasts one of the most beautiful falls in the North America. The Lower Falls of the Yellowstone plunges 308 feet to the valley floor and the roar from this massive cataract can be heard for miles.
There are many vantage points from which one can view the canyon and the falls. My favorite is Artist’s Point located on the south rim of the canyon due west of Lower Falls. From this vista you get a jaw dropping view of the red and yellow rocks of the canyon with the river churning and twisting deep beneath you. In the distance, framed within the canyon walls, are the frothy Lower Falls cascading down to the river below.