Rocky Mountains & Western Frontiers Land Tour
8/30/17 to 9/12/17

Due to the length of the review, it is in 5 parts to help with the download time. The links to the other pages are at the top of each page.

Page 1 - Denver, CO to Cheyenne, WY to Rapid City, SD
Page 2 - Rapid City, SD to Billings, MT to Cody, WY
Page 3 - Cody, WY to Yellowstone Nat. Park to Jackson Hole, WY

Page 4 - Jackson Hole, WY to Salt Lake City, UT
Page 5 - Salt Lake City, UT to Vernal, UT to Steamboat Springs, CO to Denver, CO

 

Day 11 - Salt Lake City to Vernal

We were back on the highways again.  The scenery leaving Salt Lake City was just gorgeous.  The day was also starting out clearer smoke wise than we have had.

   

   

Our first restroom break was at Park City, Colorado.  It is a skiing mecca, which was evidenced by the ski jump in the distance, which was used during the 2002 Olympics.  There were also lots of ski slopes on the mountains.

The little town looked cute; but since we were there early, most places weren’t open. 

   

I started to walk toward town and decided that it wouldn’t be worth it, especially since it was uphill.  By easing up on my walking, using a cane and icing my foot, I was doing much better; but I used the cane the rest of the trip to make sure I didn’t aggravate it.

Scott had mentioned that there was a donut shop that was popular with his other groups, so I thought that sounded like a good place to go to spend some time.   On the way there, a fellow from our group was coming back from the shop.  He told me that the shop was closed for machine maintenance.  That was most disappointing.  I craved donuts and cinnamon buns the rest of the trip; but never found any.

Since I had exhausted my options for activities for our short break, I decided to go find the restrooms.  It actually was in a very cute area with a chair lift going up to the top of a ski run.    

When I went back on the street, a few of the people in the group were getting onto the free Park City Trolley to see the town.  They were telling me that the driver assured them they would be back in time to get on the bus.  I didn’t believe her, since there was less than 15 minutes before we were to leave; and certainly didn’t want to be holding up the bus from leaving.  I knew that Scott would wait for us; but it was just inconsiderate to risk it.  After everyone boarded the bus, sure enough a few people weren’t there.  They were only about five minutes late; but it was unnecessary.

The drive to our next destination, the Utah Field House Natural History State Park, most enjoyable.  The landscape was different from anything we had been previously seeing.  

   

   

   

   

As we were entering Vernal, Scott pointed out the Dinosaur Halloween decorations.  Vernal is a dinosaur kind of town.

We stopped just outside Vernal, Utah, our final destination of the day for a scatter lunch.  Several of us in the group went to a place called Woodfire Grill.  Scott said that it used to be a Golden Corral.  We aren’t crazy about the Golden Corral; but the Woodfire Grill was very good.

After lunch, it was a short drive to the Utah Field House (https://utah.com/utah-field-house).  This part of Utah sits on some of the riches paleontological and geologic resources on earth.

   

As we entered the facility, we went into the theater area to watch a video about the exploration activities in the area.  It was most interesting and helped us to appreciate what we were to see in the exhibits.  There was a huge brontosaurus skeleton in the main lobby.

There were lots of other exhibits inside the building; but after visiting the Mammoth Site a few days ago, this seemed a lot less exciting.  The one area that was interesting, which we had seen in the video was the Rocks in Time exhibit.  We had seen how they had broken the rocks apart to reveal the fossils.  We were now able to see lots of examples of them.

   

   

   

   

While walking around the facility, I looked out the window and saw a large wooly mammoth.  We had seen other dinosaur models when we drove up to the building.  I went outside to see what else was there.  It was a very nice exhibit, for kids.

   

   

   

When I came back in, I saw the laboratory area where they work on fossils.

We got to our hotel, Springhill Suites (www.marriott.com/hotels/travel/velsh-springhill-suites-vernal), just before 4:00 PM.  It had been the least interesting day of the tour.  But at least we did have a nice hotel room for the night.   

   

   

   

   

While checking my email, I had received an email from Southwest Airlines that our flights home had been cancelled.  All during the trip, we had been closely monitoring the projected path of Hurricane Irma, since we live just 50 miles north of Miami.  When the storm was a Cat 5, it had been projected to go right over our house.  We were very relieved when the storm shifted over a hundred miles to the west, where we wouldn’t get the worst of the storm.  However, the whole area would receive hurricane force winds in a couple days.  I tried to change our flight reservations on my iPhone Southwest Airlines App, but it wouldn’t let me.  I then went down to the lobby computers and had the same issue.  I finally just came back to the room and called to make new reservations.  We had originally been booked on a non-stop flight from Denver to Fort Lauderdale on Tuesday.  When I called, the only flights available were for very early flights on Wednesday; and they were the last single seats on two separate flights.  This wasn’t desirable; but it was better than the other alternative to wait until Friday.  The flights also left within 50 minutes of each other and arrived within 30 minutes; but with different connecting cities.  At least we would be able to get home just one day later than originally planned, we hoped.

 

Day 12 – Vernal, Utah to Steamboat Springs, Colorado

We woke up to another beautiful and mild sunny day.  We had been having such great luck with our weather.  It also looked like this part of Utah did not have the heavy smoke we had been experiencing.  Which was good news, since we were driving through some interesting terrain on our way to our first destination of the day.  Before hitting the road, we stopped at a grocery store to pick up supplies for a picnic lunch.  To make sure the grocery stores we used for the two picnics would have lots of sandwiches available, Scott had alerted them ahead of time that we were coming.

As we arrived at Dinosaur National Monument (www.nps.gov/dino/index.htm), we were greeted by a large model of a stegosaurus.  The mountain in the distance behind the stegosaurus, looked like it had plates on its back too.

   

   

As we were walking into the Quarry Visitor Center, I saw a snake along the walkway.  He didn’t hang around for long as others came closer to see a live reptile, rather than the models and bones of extinct ones we had been seeing.

When we walked into the visitor center, I asked a ranger at the cash register if she knew what kind of snake I had seen.  She looked at the photo I had taken and told me that it was a non-poisonous gopher snake, which is also called a bull snake.

   

After looking at the displays in the lobby area, we went into the small theater to watch a movie about Dinosaur National Monument.  This area has one of the world’s richest dinosaur beds.   I was looking forward to seeing the Quarry Exhibit Hall’s wall of fossils behind the center that was shown in the movie.  When I went outside, I saw Scott and Jerry talking, so I walked over to them.  I had been wanting to get a photo of the two of them together ever since we started touring eleven days ago.  I asked them to pose.  They were being cute and posed backwards.  I told them that I would prefer a photo with their faces in it and they complied.  They were a great team.  We had lucked out having them both for this two-week adventure.

   

The dinosaur quarry area behind the visitor center was once an ancient river bed.  I am putting below a photo of the explanation of why the fossils were there.  Scott had told us to start on the upper level viewing area and then walk down to the floor level.  It did work out well that way.  The fossils cover the entire wall.  All the fossils at this site are from the Jurassic period, 150 million years ago.

   

   

   

   

A sign said that there were fossils from almost 400 different dinosaurs, that had been collected at the site.  There are 1,500 fossil bones at this site from 100 individuals.  I walked downstairs to get a closer look.

   

There were also very interesting displays across from the fossil wall.

   

   

One piece that was of interest to everyone, was the real fossil bone bench.  It was huge.  Carol and I had to have a photo sitting on it.

   

Scott had told us that there was half mile trail that we could take in the park; but there were signs up that the trail was temporarily closed.   We could look down at the trail; but I was disappointed we couldn’t take it.

We then boarded the bus to go to an area of the park where there we could see some 1,000 year old petroglyphs created by the Freemont people.  The drive there was really enjoyable due to the multi-colored and unusual rock formations.

   

   

When Jerry stopped the bus, Scott pointed to what looked like a cave on the side of the mountain.  He said those that wanted to, could walk up there to see the petroglyphs.  Well, I’m not one to pass on an opportunity to see petroglyphs, so off I went.  Carol made a good decision to just stay on the bus.  When we got there, it was a bit underwhelming.  But then again, some of the petroglyphs kind of looked like aliens from outer space.

   

   

We continued down the road, seeing more gorgeous terrain. 

   

   

This was the day that Hurricane Irma was supposed to hit Palm Beach County the hardest.  I have an app on my iPhone that allows me to set our home thermostat remotely.  The previous day I had turned off the air conditioning so that the lightning or power surges wouldn’t hurt it.  By checking the app periodically, I could see that we still had power in the house.  Unfortunately, I had just found out that the power was off.  We expected it to happen; but it still concerned us, since we didn’t know how long it would be out.  Since there was nothing we could do about it, we would just wait and see.

We were still in the Dinosaur National Monument area when we pulled over to the Split Mountain campground picnic area.  This was a great area for a picnic.  In addition to the beautiful scenery, the picnic tables were under large shade trees.  While the direct sun was fairly warm, the cool breeze under the trees was so pleasant.  This was the most enjoyable lunch we had the whole trip. 

 

After lunch, several of us walked down to the boat launch area on the Green River to see what was there.   It was obvious where the Green River got its name.  It was quite green.  Split Mountain behind it was amazing.  It showed how the earth had been pushed up millions of years ago to form the mountain.  I understand why it was called Split Mountain.  It did look like a mountain was cut in half.

   

   

   

   

While I was appreciating the view, I saw another bull snake on the ramp heading toward the water.  This one was much bigger than the first one I had seen earlier.  They are apparently good swimmers, since he headed out into the open water.

   

We just loved this spot, so I took so many photos there.  I even had my photo taken in front of the many yellow bushes we had been seeing. I was also curious about what was on top of Split Mountain. 

   

On the way out of the park, in addition to beautiful views, we saw the Quarry Visitor Center up on the hill from a different angle.

I was just fascinated with the unusual terrain.  Living in the flatlands of Florida, makes one really appreciate mountains and hills, especially ones as unusual as these.

   

We made a quick restroom stop at the Colorado Dinosaur National Monument welcome center.  It was very lame compared to the one we had just been to in Utah.  However, I got a real kick out of the below sign at the center.

   

We continued our journey through the amazing countryside.  By now, you must realize that a main thing to do on this type of bus tour is to enjoy the views from the bus.  As a result, I have put in probably too many photos of the landscape.  But, when I look back at this trip, the unique and changing landscape of this beautiful part of the world, is what I will want to be reminded of. 

   

We later made a quick stop at a scenic overlook in the Bull Canyon Wilderness area for photos.  It was a great panoramic vista in person; but the smoke in the air did take away from it; and of course, a flat photo can’t reproduce how dramatic a view it was.  But it does remind us of what we saw there.

   

After we returned to the bus and were driving on, we saw the valley from a different angle. 

   

The scenery the rest of the way to Steamboat Springs was so enjoyable.  I had brought my Kindle on this trip in case I got bored during some of the long drives.  I never used it until I was on the plane home.  There was just so much to see and enjoy on the whole trip.

   

   

We pulled into the Holiday Inn Steamboat Springs (LINK) around 4:00 PM.  Once again, we were staying in a very nice hotel.  The room was large with lots of amenities.

   

   

We even had a small balcony that looked out onto the pool.

   

The only problem we had with it was that the elevator was at the other end of the hotel from the lobby and our room was at the opposite end of the hotel in a different wing, so it took a lot of time to find it and a lot of walking to get there.  Carol noticed that there was another elevator a few doors down from us at the end of the hall.

Adjoining the hotel was Rex’s American Grill & Bar (www.rexsgrill.com) .  Reviews were good for it, so we planned to eat there.  When we were having a difficult time finding the elevator, the front desk gave us a floor plan that helped us find it.  When it was time for dinner, it seemed that it would be easier to use the elevator next to our room, rather than the one we had taken originally.  Looking at the floor plan, it looked like it would be much easier to use it and just go through the gym facility next to the elevator to go outside to the restaurant.  It was much easier indeed, plus it came out at the restaurant’s outdoor seating area.  With the mild temperature, we were able to sit at a table outside and enjoy the fresh air and mountain view.

   

The waiter recommended a nice beer from a local Steamboat Springs brewing company.  Since we had arrived before 6:00 PM, we got happy hour pricing, so I splurged for a second one.  It really tasted good.  Some of our friends from the tour were sitting at the table next to us so we also enjoyed their company.  We weren’t very hungry, so we just ordered a pizza.  It was a good choice and quite yummy.


Day 13 - Steamboat Springs, Colorado to Denver

This would be our last touring day; the vacation was almost over.  Scott told us that we would really enjoy the day’s drive.  He was right.  It was beautiful.  In addition, the leaves were changing adding a lot of color to the forests.

   

   

We entered Rocky Mountain National Park (www.nps.gov/romo/index.htm) and stopped at the Kawuneeche Visitor Center.  They had a display that told about the Continental Divide and where it ran.  On the western side of the divide, waters flow toward the Pacific Ocean.  On the eastern side, they flow to the Gulf of Mexico or to the northeast.

After leaving the visitor center, we continued to climb in elevation.  We were driving on the Trail Ridge Road, which is also known as the “Highway to the Sky.”  It is closed in the winter.   The scenery was so pretty, we saw a patch of trees in the middle of a pine forest that had turned to a beautiful shade of yellow and orange.  There aren’t many trees in the Rockies that turn orange.  The ones that do turn are mostly the yellow Aspens. 

  

As Scott had promised previously, we were going to stop at one of the Continental Divide signs.  This was a good one, at a 10,759-foot elevation.  Everyone was taking photos with the sign.  It looked like Santa Claus might be there, but the fellow was too thin to be Santa.

   

Jerry was doing an excellent job of driving on the narrow roads up to our next destination that was the highest point on the road.  We would get above the tree line.  The road kept snaking up the mountain until we reached the Alpine Visitor Center at 11,796 feet above sea level.  I was fascinated with the large logs on the roof, I assume they provide support for the large amounts of snow they get.

   

   

Scott told us that we could take the trail to the top of the mountain to get a nice view of the other side of the valley; but since we had just come from that side of the mountain, I couldn’t see exerting myself in the thin air to do it.  If my foot had been at 100%, I probably would have been foolish enough to do it, but not that day.

I instead took in the view of the glacial cirque in front of us.  This is where glaciers would start when hundreds of feet of snow would fall there, compress and move down the valley.

   

   

The Alpine Welcome Center was very active, with people needing information, supplies and of course souvenirs.

The scenery all around the visitor center and further along the route to Estes Park over the next hour was just amazing, nature at its best.  It is a lot of photos; but there was a lot of beauty out the bus windows.

   

   

   

   

   

   

   

   

   

   

As we pulled into Estes Park, Scott pointed out the Stanley Hotel.  He said that it was the hotel that motivated Stephen King to write the Shining.

Estes Park, at least the little bit we saw of it, was a lovely town with lots of flowers and beautiful scenery. 

   

We went to Claire’s Restaurant (http://clairesonthepark.com) for lunch.  Carol had a Reuben sandwich and I had a Wild Game Meatloaf entrée.  It had bison, elk and beef in it.  It was pretty good; but it is hard to beat Carol’s normal meatloaf.

After lunch, I walked into town to check out the shops and see what else was there.  I came upon an unusual place that had interesting and colorful items for sale.

On our way back to Denver, I checked my app and saw that our power had come back on.  It had only been off about 28 hours.  We were very fortunate.  As we passed through a small town, Scott pointed out the Marijuana shops.  Colorado allows the recreational use of marijuana.  There were several of these shops in that relatively small town.  I guess business is good.

Finally, we got back to the Holiday Inn Cherry Creek, that we had stayed in the first night, it was nice to return to a familiar place.  We had the same type room we had before.  The hotel bar was a popular place with the folks on tour.  Since it was the last night, everyone was saying their farewells, since we would all go our separate ways the next day.  We ate at the hotel’s Flagstone Restaurant, as did many from the group.  I had ordered the chile relleno dinner, which the waiter said was very good and popular.  It was taking a very long time to come to our table.  The waiter finally came over very apologetically telling us that the cook didn’t have all the ingredients.  I don’t know why he didn’t know it 45 minutes earlier; but our replacement meal was on the house. 


Day 14 – Denver to Home

We had originally planned on using Uber or Lyft to get back to the airport for our flights home.  During the tour, we decided to use YMT’s transfer instead.  It was reasonable and a lot less hassle.  It also gave us a chance to see Scott and Jerry again. 

I had booked a hotel for the night that was reasonable and close to the airport with a free shuttle.  When we got to the airport, I called the hotel and they told me the shuttle would be leaving on their regular half hour schedule shortly and it would be there in about ten minutes.  It was.  We were staying at the Americinn Hotel & Suites (LINK).  I had never heard of the chain; but we couldn’t be happier with it.  It was a huge room, with a comfortable sitting area and great bed.  It also had a microwave, refrigerator and dishwasher.  It was set up where a person could have an extended stay.  The shuttle drivers and front desk people were also most helpful and friendly. 

   

   

There were two restaurants right across the street.  We decided to have both lunch and dinner at Vinny’s Grill and Tavern (http://vinnysbarandgrillatdia.com).  The food and service was good or we wouldn’t have gone there twice.

One of the reasons I chose this hotel was that they had shuttles to the airport every half hour beginning at 3:00 AM.  With my flight at 6:30 AM and Carol’s at 7:20 AM, I had booked the 4:30 AM shuttle.  We were up and ready earlier than expected.  When we went to the lobby, we were able to get on the 4:00 AM shuttle.  Our flights left on time, with me headed to Houston and Carol to Austin.  Carol was able to stay on the same plane; but I had to change.  No big deal for me.  While waiting for my connecting flight, I was told that there was an hour and fifteen-minute air traffic control delay.  Good grief, that would mean that Carol would get to Fort Lauderdale 45 minutes before me, rather than the planned 30-minutes after.  Since we had put our two pieces of luggage on her flight, since she was arriving after me, now she would have to hassle with it.

I decide to check to see what time Carol’s flight was arriving and found that her flight had also been delayed.  The air traffic control delay was in Fort Lauderdale, not Houston.  It still looked like she was going to arrive before me; but not as much as I worried about.  When I landed in Fort Lauderdale, I found out that her plane was just arriving at the gate next to mine.  I love it when a plan comes together.

Recap

It had been a long time since we had been on a bus tour.  I was apprehensive when I booked it, since it was nothing like the 47 cruises we had been on since our last bus tour.  I was also concerned about many other things that could mess up a nice vacation.  We had nothing to fear.  We had lucked out with two very capable professionals in Scott and Jerry, who took excellent care of us, provided service second to none and showed us parts of the United States we never would have visited without them.  We just had a great time and saw so much beauty.  I won’t hesitate to book a YMT tour in the future.  We couldn’t be happier with the experience.

 

     

 

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