My husband and I along with our adult daughter recently returned from a trip to Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks. We were hesitant due to the pandemic, yet I’m so glad we went.
Traveling in the age of COVID is different. This was trip plan No. 2 as we were originally scheduled for Yosemite and Sequoia National Parks in California with a couple of days in San Francisco.
Flight times, layovers, planes and seat assignments changed so many times I told the Dayton hotel’s shuttle driver the wrong time for our return pickup. At least I knew we were going to Yellowstone and not Yosemite.
Air travel has gotten more confusing, if that is possible. The changes are comparable to after 9/11, not as extreme but consistent everywhere. We still had to remove our shoes, but now everyone wears a mask that is not to be removed.
Checked bags cost $30 each but still must be less than 50 pounds. I resorted to weighing my socks and underwear while packing. The heaviest shoes are always the ones worn on the plane, which makes going through security another adventure.
There’s still the 3-1-1 rule, and now each passenger is allowed to bring one larger container of hand sanitizer which must be scanned separately. There were a slew of stray items in the bins that were pulled aside, and most of them were mine.
Hotels are taking the situation seriously and are doing a good job of adjusting. There is no daily housekeeping service; anything needed could be requested at the front desk. It was nice not having to pick up the room before leaving in the morning, but I missed coming back to freshly made beds, clean towels hanging nicely and emptied wastebaskets. I’m amazed how quickly we can trash a hotel room without even being messy.
Breakfasts have evolved to grab and go in a paper bag. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, although I couldn’t always get an extra muffin for my morning snack. Some of the hotels gave us interesting options and a good selection. Our daughter Sherry was excited to find Cheerios, a carton of milk, yogurt, a muffin, an orange and a breakfast sandwich inside one paper bag. She used the extra milk with Oreos left from lunch as a bedtime snack. She was also delighted with the Little Debbie Swiss cake rolls on another breakfast bar. Coffee was still available 24/7 at some places.
I read that some facilities in national parks were not open or fully supplied, and it was suggested to bring your own essentials. We found this to be untrue, so the roll of toilet paper I brought along was not required. I paid $40 for bear spray that we did not need, but I viewed that as a good investment.
Yellowstone National Park is amazing. Old Faithful gets top billing, but she’s not the only spectacular phenomenon deserving recognition. A large part of the park sits on a volcanic caldera with underground boiling water springs. Geysers are the earth’s way of releasing some tension. Having gone through menopause, I understand the need for an eruption every so often. There are pools of bubbling acid that make the area look like something from an end-of-the-world movie. A sulfuric odor lingered in the air.
Traveling during a public health emergency has benefits. Two groups that make up a large percentage of tourists were not there. Most foreign visitors are banned from the United States, and there were no tour buses filled with senior citizens. There were still crowds, so I can’t imagine what it was like not so long ago when people traveled the world with few concerns.
Wildlife roamed freely in both parks; we saw bison, elk, pronghorn deer, coyotes, a fox and multiple species of small animals. I was disappointed we did not see any moose and relieved we did not encounter any bears. Warning signs abounded reminding us we were in bear country. Park literature explained what to do to survive a bear attack. I had my own plan; I’d run for the car knowing I would be safe inside before my husband would get to the vehicle. It sounds cold-hearted, but even on a plane you are told to put on your own oxygen mask before trying to help anyone else. It’s survival of the fittest, or at least the fastest.
Sherry was easy on us when selecting trails and activities. I knew I couldn’t handle anything strenuous and she took that into consideration. Hiking while wearing a mask works your lungs harder, so three miles round trip was my limit. She probably did not want to be reported for abandoning two old folks on a trail. There could be some law against leaving your parents for the bears.
The Teton Mountains are stunning. And, like our trip to the Canadian Rockies two years ago, there was smoke from a distant fire. The California and Oregon fires sent a haze over the peaks, which obscured some of the views. Air quality was bad and my eyes watered in the sunlight. Squinting at the mountains was still awe inspiring, but at one overlook tourists were more engaged with a Golden Retriever and a kitten sitting in the front side windshield of an RV. We all took a photo of the gentle pair waiting for their owners to return.
For some reason, getting nourished on a trip always seems to be a problem for us. And in the age of COVID it gets more challenging. We got groceries and followed our usual plan of picnicking for lunch. We opted to do carry-out for supper while supporting local establishments. On our first evening in Jackson, Wyoming, we looked online for someplace close and chose carefully from the extensive menu. When I called I was told they weren’t taking to-go orders because the kitchen was backed up. We went on to decision No. 2.
Pinky G’s Pizzeria was featured on the Food Network and had a location in Jackson, so we placed an order online. Directions on Google maps told us Pinky’s was closed. After finding a place to park in the busy tourist town, we discovered Google was correct. Our order went to Big Sky, Montana, as the Jackson location was closed on Sundays. We were not going to drive over 100 miles to pick up pizza; we’d go back to the hotel and order delivery from the Domino’s down the street.
Plugging in the hotel address on Domino’s website showed they did not deliver to our hotel. After strike No. 3, I opened the picnic basket and had cereal for supper.
The next night we ordered take-out from Domino’s and couldn’t find the place when we went to pick up. Google kept telling us we were there, but where was Domino’s? After circling the strip mall several times and finally backtracking, we found it tucked in between a nail salon and a tire dealer.
I craved an iced tea after we settled into our hotel in Salt Lake City. We had returned our rental, so I was on foot. The gas station across the street wasn’t open and the deli around the corner was closed. I knew I saw Golden Arches somewhere and Apple maps directed me two blocks away. Many places still do not have inside dining, and a homeless man informed me I would not be served at the drive thru without a vehicle. I went back to my hotel room and drank water.
I wore two hats on vacation; that of navigator and that of traveler in charge of entertainment. Thankfully neither of these hats required a strap around my neck. Trying to keep the drive time fun, I resorted to our old standards of listing vacation sights in alphabetical order, finding license plates of different states and, my favorite, 20 questions. I encouraged group singing of Fifty Nifty United States at each welcome sign, but most of the time I was doing a solo. On day No. 11, Sherry felt 10 days of vacationing was her limit.
A major cold front moved in and Yellowstone had snow. Some of the boardwalks were icy and the geysers were spewing steam when we arrived. The front also brought strong winds to Utah, closing schools and the interstate north of Salt Lake City. We saw semis blown over, laying on the side of the highway. We were detoured through the small town of Bountiful and had difficulty getting out. After waiting in long lines of stop and go traffic, we encountered street closures due to downed trees and power lines. I later heard that 60 large trees were uprooted in a Salt Lake City park and a cemetery had tombstones and graves damaged. Our hotel lost power, but it was daylight and we were leaving, so it didn’t affect us much.
Heading home, I needed to load as many articles as possible on my person. My luggage weighed in at 48.5 pounds, so my plan to stuff the pockets of my cargo pants was a good one until those pockets needed to be emptied before going through airport security. When the TSA agent was patting and sliding her hands over the pockets, I told her to be careful so my pants did not slide off. She jokingly said I was a mess. She only knew part of my story.