Arm Chair Road Trip Day 44: Cold Air and (Very) Hot Water

March 27, 2021 — 2 Comments

yellow sign

Our place in Jackson Hole was a motel, and when I opened the door the next morning to grab coffee, it was cold! In the mid-20s, the car windows all frosted. Looming just across the street was a steep ski slope covered in manmade snow. Mtuseni, who’s chilly when it’s below 65, was not gonna be happy! 

In the light of day — and sitting in the little breakfast room past the front desk — I realized this was the same place I’d stayed at when I visited in 1996! That’s crazy. And it just deepened my sense of connection to and affection for Jackson.

The day’s itinerary was the Tetons and Yellowstone. The park is big, so I was debating in my head how to approach it. But my options ended up being limited by that pesky low tire from Tahoe.

Heading out for the day — after making Mtuseni scrape the windshield for his first time ever — I saw the orange warning on the dashboard again. This time it was really low. I searched for a garage to get it repaired, which the guy said would take an hour. After waiting and walking around aimlessly, the guy calls and asks where the tool is to unlock the lug nuts. What!??

Evidently, the car’s prior owner had put locking nuts on the wheels. WTF? Who’s gonna steal tires off a Camry? I’d bought new tires for the trip. The shop never mentioned locking bolts — and they never put the unlocking tool back in the trunk, or anywhere. The mechanics went through the whole car looking for it. The bolts were locked on!

I called the tire place back east; they knew nothing. Thankfully the guy in Jackson said he could cut the nuts and put on new ones. I told him to do it on all four wheels. I didn’t want to deal with this again, ever. 

One good thing I realized later… thank god I never got a flat on the trip. If I’d waited for AAA to come change the tire on an endless prairie somewhere … and then found out the bolts were locked on, well, I would have experienced a new level of losing my shit!


tetons wide


So in the end, we lost two hours of the day. I was pissed, but the beauty of the Tetons quickly brightened my mood. They’re so majestic. In 1996, I’d spent the afternoon by an abandoned farmhouse, watching a snow squall blow through the peaks, near a shallow, rutted twin path heading north through the grass — the faded route of pioneer wagons so long ago. I never saw another person. And I’ll never forget that afternoon.

I looked for the farmhouse as we sped toward Yellowstone, but I couldn’t see it. We didn’t have time to stop anyway. Just enough for photos. I’d originally thought about hiking in the Tetons, but we were both freaked out by the bear warnings. You need to be in a group of at least three — and then I guess hope you can outrun your friends as the grizzly devours them! 

Check out our Instagram from the road to Yellowstone!

tetons pair

So glad there was snow on the Tetons! It just adds to their beauty.


teton river

I just wanted to sit in this spot all day. Sigh.


As with the Grand Canyon and Flagstaff, I’d forgotten how far it is from Jackson Hole to Yellowstone. I was hoping to do a sweep of the main park loop, through the main area where buffalo often block the road, then a quick hike to Yellowstone Falls, then finish off with Old Faithful. But Mother Nature and the Park Service had other ideas.

At the entry gate, the ranger told us the northern route had already been shut down; parts of the Rockies had been hit with a blizzard days earlier. The rest of the road was set to close for the season on October 15: tomorrow. She said our best bet was to head up to the geysers.

Yellowstone Park is big and sprawling. Unlike Yosemite, where so many sites are close together in the main valley, the key attractions in Yellowstone are separated by long drives through somewhat dull forest. A half hour later, we pulled into the fairly empty parking lot to see Old Faithful spouting off. Luckily it does that frequently, so I wasn’t upset that we caught the tail end of the show.


old faithful

Old Faithful from deep into our walk. It’s actually better from afar.


Mtuseni and I walked along the boardwalks. It’s like a moonscape there — but one surrounded by lush hills. Near the hotel lot, a woman jumped out of her car and ran with her camera toward a bison that was grazing. A woman ranger giving a tour yelled, “Lady, no! Get back! That’s a wild animal. He can charge you.” The woman stopped on a dime and sheepishly went back to her car. Mtuseni and I laughed. That ranger did not care about sounding polite: “Lady! No!” How many times does she have to do that during a season? People are so dumb. 


Lady No!

This munching buffalo didn’t know the drama and hilarity he caused. The woman with the camera got about three feet away from him. “Lady! No! Get back!” LOL. (I zoomed in to get this guy from maybe 50 feet.)


As we strolled among the the colorful bubbling pools and sulfurous steam, looking at the brittle crust that was off limits, we noticed big blobs of buffalo dung on it. We wondered how those heavy animals could just walk freely on that crust — but humans can fall in and turn into shabu-shabu. We joked that after dark when the visitors are gone, the bison probably relax in the geyser pools like hot tubs, laughing at the silly humans who are afraid to go near them.


blue pool


castle geyser


Unlike in 1996, now there’s an app that tracks when certain geysers might erupt. I saw that Grand Geyser might erupt that afternoon. When we got to it, a bunch of people were waiting. But the potential window was about 90 minutes, and there was no guarantee: it’s a geyser, not a train. I wasn’t gonna sit there for nothing.


grand sign

Mother Nature doesn’t give a guarantee on these things, and I wasn’t gonna sit and wait for nothing.


So we kept following the path deeper into the geyser field. It’s a long, meandering boardwalk. We saw a few other smaller geysers erupt along the way. Mtuseni was pretty enthralled. At one point I turned to say something to him and saw Grand Geyser behind him start to erupt. I yelled, “Oh my god, it’s going!”

And then so did Mtuseni. He took off like a shot, running back toward the geyser. I trotted along behind, wanting to skip the meandering boardwalk curves and run straight across the crust of death.


mtu geyser self


It lived up to its grand name, spouting for a good 15 minutes with double jets. It’s better than Old Faithful, because you can get closer to it, and it creates a river of steaming water that flows under the boardwalk. It really is amazing. Later I watched Museni’s run to the geyser, which he captured with the GoPro and narrated continually. It’s hysterical. I’ve never heard someone say “wow” so many times.


geyser river pair

This was the first day I had to pull out a winter jacket. A big change from the sticky, stifling September days in the South!


When the show was over, we walked along another section of boardwalk. I wanted to show Mtuseni the stunning lobby of the historic hotel there, but it was already closed for the season. It felt a little bittersweet. We’d spent weeks in blazing heat and humidity at the start of the trip — and now places were closing down for winter. I felt the clock ticking…

I also knew this was our last really impressive sight to see for a while; there’s nothing spectacular in the Great Plains. But we were rewarded with a stunning view across a valley toward snow-capped peaks that seemed to be floating. It was breathtaking, and I knew we wouldn’t see any more snow on the trip.


rockys lst shot

On the road out of Yellowstone. I had to get out and take this photo; there’s wasn’t even a turnoff! It’s like a glimpse of heaven.


tetons fading

So long Grand Tetons. Till next time. (And I will be back!)


We grabbed a few last dusky shots of the Tetons then headed back to Jackson. We had dinner at the historic Silver Dollar Bar, where brave Mtuseni ordered the bison chili. Actually, he’ll eat anything that’s meat. The place was packed, with TV screens showing baseball playoffs and a Monday Night Football game. Sports nuts Mtuseni tried to watch both… and learn the games. But he still preferred soccer.

The raucous atmosphere and sounds of football on a chilly night made it really feel like fall — and a good wrap to the adventurous part of the trip. I was dreading the days ahead of driving through flat nothing… and leaving my beloved West in the rearview mirror.


cowboy bar

My old boyfriend in San Francisco used to call me cowboy. This place in Jackson brought back happy memories of him and those younger days. Damn, how quickly time flies.


2 responses to Arm Chair Road Trip Day 44: Cold Air and (Very) Hot Water


    This blog should be a book.

    Liked by 1 person

Trackbacks and Pingbacks:

  1. Arm Chair Road Trip Day 45: Farewell to the West « Long-Distance Dad - May 1, 2021

    […] spending a day amid steaming geysers as Yellowstone prepared to shut down for the winter, it felt like a shift had occurred. The first […]


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