I had been sick with a flu for several days prior to our trip. The day before, sick enough to leave work early, which I rarely do. So, I was somewhat vague as we woke early to get to the airport. After applying a liberal coating of Mormon repellent we boarded our flight to Salt Lake City.
My partner had airline miles that were about to expire. We had also, over the years, built up a number of miles on an AA Advantage card that we had never used. The flight and rental car were paid for with these. All we would have to pay for was lodging and food, plus incidentals. One of the incidentals was taxes and insurance on the car. At the rental car counter sticker shock set in when I realized how much a car upgrade, taxes and insurance amounted to. Collecting myself, we collected the car and set out for Yellowstone National Park.
Salt Lake City, dominated by the state capitol building set high on a hillside and the famous Mormon Temple, would be a beautiful setting were the view of the spectacular snow dusted mountains not marred by strip malls and some rather ordinary, verging on tacky, housing stock. It was cold and snow flurries drifted down as we traveled.
To get to Yellowstone we had to go through Idaho. Midway through the state the flurries turned to steady snow and finally a storm with fat wet snowflakes the size of Idaho's legendary potatoes making the roads hazardous, adding to our estimated driving time.
Prior to arriving at Yellowstone you pass through the Targhee National Forest. By this time the lodge pole pines that make up the forest sported a thick coating of snow giving the surroundings the breathtaking beauty of a winter wonderland. We arrived at the small town of West Yellowstone just before sunset.
West Yellowstone is the perfect entry point to the park. A tiny town,charming and quaint bordering on kitschy. The log cabin service station and western shop on one corner stands alongside other log structures and classic western fake fronts. They have a summer stock theatre called the "Windmill Playhouse" whose facade features; well, a windmill. The mundane hotels look like those found along any American roadside save for the wooden bears hugging the carriage entrance pillars, or, in one case, attached to the wall as if they were attempting to attack the inhabitants through the windows. One restaurant has old style Christmas lights wrapped around the railing of it's outdoor seating area. Indoors, the seating is in miniature covered wagons surrounding a tableau of bison with a bird on it's back standing next to a fake campfire while stars are projected on the ceiling. The extremely young waiter was properly "duded up" in cowboy boots and a hat almost the size of his entire head.
Many of the businesses were closing or had already closed for the winter due to the dwindling number of visitors this late in the season. The only people we seemed to be sharing the town with were elderly bus tour travelers. The upside to this was the quiet, plus, the obligatory souvenir tee shirts we purchased were all 50% off. Prior to checking in at our hotel we stopped by the Yellowstone National Park sign at the entrance to the park for a photo op.
Our hotel attempted to create a "woodsy" atmosphere with pine cone patterned carpet and bed spreads and western inspired upholstery on the wing chair in our room. The lamps featured metal woodland animal silhouettes. My personal feeling is that this was taken one step too far when it came to the pine cone patterned shower curtain. I was somewhat distracted wondering where one would even find such a thing. Exhausted from the flight and the snowy drive we turned in.