Yellowstone National Park

Text: Christa Neuhauser • Photography: Christa Neuhauser, Genevieve Schmitt

I don't really need a good reason to go on a motorcycle trip, whether it be for the adventure of exploring a new area, tackling a challenging road, or just getting away from my daily routine. But this ride is something special, and I'm excited to get to ride through Yellowstone National Park, a perfectly good reason for a trip! I can't wait to witness the beauty and wildlife of the very first national park.

It's early September, which seems like the perfect time for riding because of the comfortable temperatures during the day. I'm part of a group of 12 riders from the U.S. and Europe who were brought together by the Idaho Department of Commerce to share the beauty of this part of the world. We collect our Harley-Davidsons in Idaho Falls, and I get the opportunity to ride the XR1200X, a nimble motorcycle that I like because of its agility.

We leave the city behind us, heading east on the Swan Valley Highway, surrounded by open farmland. It's chilly this morning, and the sky is crisp blue. It's a magical moment when we cross the Snake River, the sun reflecting on the water, turning it into liquid silver. A few sweepers lead us into the Targhee National Forest, and we get a first glimpse of the harsh mountain range of the Tetons before we stop for gas in Victor.

The Grand Tetons

The road winds up to the Teton Pass at 8,431 feet, snow from a couple of days ago still lining the road. At the very top, an open view into the valley of Jackson Hole, WY, welcomes us. We stop in Jackson, usually a pretty laid-back and quiet place but busy today. The town is overflowing with visitors who came for Old Bill's Fun Run, a charity event, along with entertainment, activities, food and nonprofit informational booths. We satisfy our hunger at the Million Dollar Cowboy Bar, famous for its burgers, and we aren't disappointed. I ask for extra tomatoes and extras I get; I have a hard time getting the burger into my mouth.

Heading north we arrive at the famous Teton Range, where we are rewarded with unbeaten scenery of the three majestic peaks reaching into the blue firmament. The snowcaps add even more to their impressive appearance. The Tetons are part of the Rocky Mountains and are relatively young, only 10 million years old. They continue to grow about an inch every 100 years with the largest peak, the Grand Teton, at 13,772 feet.

We finally enter Yellowstone. The speed limit is 45 mph, but we don't want to rush. There is so much to see and breathe in. We meander along Jackson Lake, which is framed by the rugged Teton Range in the west.

The park is larger than Rhode Island and Delaware combined. It houses the world's largest calderas, with more than 10,000 thermal features and more than 300 geysers, the largest petrified forest, and countless waterfalls. Last year, three million people visited the park. The rich wildlife is also fascinating, and we don't have to wait long before a bear crosses the road, bringing traffic to a stop. The animals in the park have the right of way, and it's amazing to see them in their natural habitat.

We make a right and follow the Grand Loop Road, bordered on the east by Yellowstone Lake, the highest lake in North America at 7,732 feet. The late afternoon sun deepens the turning colors of the leaves and paints a colorful landscape. The bubbling, steaming and churning mud puddles in this area remind us that the biggest volcano in the world is still active below ground. We make one last stop at the Upper Yellowstone Falls, just in time to see them develop their full beauty in the warm evening light.

Sitting at Lake Hotel we absorb the view, while the last rays of the sun turn the snow-covered mountaintops dramatically pink before disappearing quietly behind the horizon. This colonial-style hotel is the oldest surviving hotel in the park and has a distinct atmosphere. But right now we're more focused on our dinner and the stories of seeing a gray wolf beside the road. Tired and happy we make quarter for the night at the Grant Village.

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For the complete touring article, including facts & information, map(s), and GPS files, please purchase the May/June 2011 back issue.