Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Yellowstone running (and Grand Teton too)

North Entrance to Yellowstone National Park

I just got back from a week in Wyoming, first at Grand Teton National Park for a couple of days, and the next five at Yellowstone National Park. As this was a family vacation (including my dad), I didn't get to do nearly as much running as I normally would've. But I wasn't about to pass up the opportunity to get in some miles in national parks!

First, we stayed at Colter Bay Village in Grand Teton, which sits at 6800 feet above sea level. Between flying from the Pacific Northwest to having to ride the shuttle into Jackson Hole to pick our rental car to taking the scenic way into the park, it was well into the evening when I had a free moment, and the possibility of encountering a bear was enough to deter me from trying to run. I guess I could've run with bear spray (we bought a cannister) but I forgot to bring a headlamp. Instead, I did some easy bodyweight exercises: squats, lunges, and push-ups.

The next morning, I got up early and went for a short run. It seemed cool enough that I put on my Brooks lightweight running shell, but in retrospect, I didn't need it. I felt adventurous enough that I didn't stay in the camp village; I had, after all, come prepared with trail running shoes. I quickly discovered that the combination of hills and high altitude make for tough conditions! I was, however, rewarded with fantastic views of the geography, including this picture that I captured of part of Jackson Lake.

A view from the trails around Colter Bay, Grand Teton Nat'l Park.

I managed 4.4 miles at just under a 9:30 pace and decided to call it a day. Those squats from the night before made themselves known! Plus I knew that we were going on a 3-mile ranger-led hike that afternoon.

An elk having breakfast just as we headed toward our breakfast.

After two days in Grand Teton, we moved on to Yellowstone. (Just in time, as it turned out: maybe a couple of hours after we crossed parks, a tour bus flipped on the road and shut both lanes of the John D. Rockefeller Memorial Highway, which links the parks. The visitor center at Grant Village, where we were staying, was crowded with stranded travelers whose options were (1) wait for the road to re-open; or (2) take a 4 1/2 hour detour through Idaho!)

Female elk welcoming us to Grant Village

While the kids and my dad sat down for a game of Monopoly Deal and my wife organized, etc., I went "exploring" the area. Remember how Colter Bay is at an altitude of 6800 feet? Well, Grant Village is about a thousand feet higher! Plus, instead of its being in the morning, this was mid-afternoon. I had Columbia Sportswear Omni-Freeze gear (visor and tech shirt) with me, but it was still kind of brutal, except in the shade.

I'm a sucker for running across suspension bridges
If I were better prepared, or more careful, I would've brought a map with me, or at least studied one in some detail, before running. As it was, I figured, how lost could I get if I weren't going to run more than 4-5 miles? Well, I didn't exactly get lost, but for a while, I wasn't exactly sure where I was. Fortunately, I had been doing the driving, so I had some general idea where the camp village was in relation to . . . wherever it was that I was at.

Of course, no visit to Yellowstone is complete without seeing the thermal activity-driven springs:

Prismatic Spring
Or Old Faithful:

Thar she blows!
The last place we stayed at in the park was Canyon Village, which is "only" 6800 feet above sea level.

Doe and calf welcoming us to Canyon Village

It's called Canyon Village because it's right by the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone. Again, while everyone else played Monopoly Deal, I went exploring (although my run ended up being so short that I was able to shower and still have to wait to get in on a second game). Why is it the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone? Take a look:

I'm not a big fan of heights, so I stayed far from the edge of the trail
I took this picture near a sign that pointed toward "Inspiration Point." (Later on, I told my wife that I had run there, but she was puzzled that I'd gone that far. It turned out that she was right and I was wrong, although we didn't fully discover this until the next day when we all hiked out to Inspiration Point, and it was a lot farther than I remembered going.)

Anyway, coming back to the camp village, I saw this bison on the road in front of me:

This dude lives around here apparently
Now you might think it's pretty sad to lose to a big ol' bison in a footrace, but they can actually run up to 30 miles an hour! (Not that this guy was running at all, but still....) Yeah, I've been known to go chase after a coyote for a picture, but I kept a respectful distance from this bison. Speaking of coyotes, you might think seeing a coyote is no big deal, since it happens to me on occasion when I go running where I live, but there's something quite cool about coming across one in the wild, without even having to go running:

We wouldn't have spotted him at all but for the crowd of people staring at him
Something I don't see at all around town? How about bighorn sheep - this was as we were leaving the park for good, in the evening:

Lucky shot, catching the sheep looking straight at the camera
I had stopped the car to see what everyone was gawking at, and with binoculars, saw the sheep from the side. I rushed back to the car to let the family know that this was worth getting out for, while I quickly changed lenses on my camera (I had thought we were done seeing animals, so I had swapped my telephoto zoom for my wide-angle zoom). Everyone got a glimpse of the sheep, but by the time I had my camera ready, it had moved behind the rock. I suggested waiting a bit, and sure enough, it popped its head back out!

We spent our last night in Gardiner, which is actually in Montana. (Yellowstone is nearly all in Wyoming, but little strips of it are located in Montana and Idaho.) I hadn't run in two days, although we'd done hiking most days of the trip, so I got up at 6:30 a.m. local time and ran 5.8 miles all around town. Considering that the town has a population of well under a thousand, 5.8 miles was enough to see just about everything Gardiner had to offer.

All in all, it was a reasonably productive trip from the running standpoint. I didn't get nearly as many miles in as I normally would, but did get to see lots of cool stuff, and plus, I've now added Wyoming and Montana to the list of states I've gone running in. (The full list is now Alaska*, California, Florida, Hawaii, Iowa, Nebraska, Oregon, Washington, and as a bonus, British Columbia.)

* This was on a cruise ship in the inside passage, which is technically Alaska, but I suppose I should keep the asterisk until I run on the land.

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