I have just returned from my first vacation in over two years. Planning was a challenge, but so worth it. My husband and I, along with our dear friends, spent nine days exploring Grand Tetons, Yellowstone, Mt. Rushmore, Badlands and so much more. We began planning early in the year, before any of us was vaccinated, with the idea that if travel was inappropriate or not safe, we would cancel. After learning just a couple of months ago that our guide was unvaccinated, and was not planning to become vaccinated, we scrambled to find a substitute. The result was a memorable adventure that restored my soul and let me breathe in air that can only be found in the widest of open spaces.
Day one found us hiking to the hidden water falls at Jenny Lake in Grand Teton National Forest. The six-mile trek took us over rocky, hilly terrain around the lake, through forests of Aspen trees just turning to golden yellow. As we made our way, the clear lake reflected the bluest sky I have seen in a long time. By the time we returned to our van, I felt rejuvenated, relaxed, and ready for more. And for the next week and a half we got so much more.
Our visit to Yellowstone began with a drive through the pre-dawn hours to watch the sunrise over Lake Yellowstone. Upon arrival we were greeted by a mother Elk and her baby serenely grazing in the grass while the sun began to peek over the horizon. The air echoed with the early morning cries of Elk waking and greeting each other throughout the park. As daylight broke, we witnessed the herd all around us as they wandered down to find food. Simply magical!
We made our way to perhaps the most famous landmark in Yellowstone: Old Faithful Geyser. A sign let us know when the next eruption was expected, and we wandered around the geysers until just before. As we waited, other geysers spouted plumes of boiling water that had made its way to the surface over thousands of years. Old Faithful did not disappoint, either. The eruption lasted for three minutes, sending plumes of water high into the sky above. The rest of the day was spent viewing geysers and thermal pools throughout the section of park known as, “The Caldera,” the area created by volcanic eruptions over the past 2 million years. Everywhere we looked we could see steam rising from the pools’ bubbling surface. The largest, Grand Prismatic, glowed blue, red, orange, yellow, and green. It felt prehistoric and otherworldly.
Another highlight found us the next day rising even earlier to participate in a wildlife safari. We began in a section of the park known as Lamar Valley, home to wolves, grizzlies, elk, moose, and many other species of animals and birds. Daybreak found us perched on a small hill about a mile and a half from a group of young, sleepy wolves. Once again, the air rang out with their morning howls like a symphony surrounding us. Our guide was equipped with special binoculars and scopes that allowed us to witness the activity from a safe distance, nearly two miles away. We watched as three young wolves frolicked, waiting for an elder to bring them their breakfast. Throughout the day we followed the Valley’s roads as our guide received updates from his network of scouts reporting on the latest sightings. We watched a solitary female moose run through the woods in search of her herd. We saw pronghorns, or antelopes, grazing as they stayed safely away from the wolves. We also witnessed bison during their rutting, or mating, season, fighting with each other to claim their favorite female. Above soared hawks, eagles, and magpies.
Later in the week, we made our way to South Dakota where we viewed the majestic Mt. Rushmore, Crazy Horse Memorial, and hiked into Badlands National Park. The Badlands was originally home to Oglala Sioux Indians. As homesteaders spread out through the area, the U.S. government stripped the Native people of their land and sent them to reservations. Badlands is the site of the tragic Wounded Knee massacre. There is, however, much beauty in the area. The rough looking terrain boasts tall spires and pinnacles and is home to the once endangered black footed ferret, which was reintroduced into the wild. The area is also the largest mixed grass prairie in the country. Dramatic and stark, the Badlands was a highlight for me.
There were so many memorable experiences and sights along our journey. What sticks with me the most is the sense of freedom after many months of confinement and restriction. I am awestruck by the beauty to be found in our country and a bit ashamed I have spent so much time exploring the world without ever looking in my own backyard. This trip inspired me to see more, do more, and interact more with the United States. I will always remember the cries of the elk and wolves, the fragrance of pine forests and the feeling of success as I climb a high peak. And while another vacation may be months away, there is much to explore in my own little corner of the world. See you out there!
About Barbara Dab
Barbara Dab is a journalist, broadcast radio personality, producer and award-winning public relations consultant. She is the Editor of The Jewish Observer of Nashville, and a former small business owner. Barbara loves writing, telling stories of real people and real events and most of all, talking to people all over the world. The Jewish Observer newspaper can be read online at www.jewishobservernashville.org . and follow her on Instagram @barbdab58
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