Race recap:The race was super small (~300 runners) but the scenery was awe-inspiring. Unfortunately the Grand Tetons were at our back most of the race, but the slight downhill grade for the first 6 miles would have made a reverse route picturesque but pretty tough. At 6,500 feet above sea-level it felt a bit like trying to breathe through a straw while running. I didn’t feel the altitude effects as soon as Kristin, but once I did they were pretty tough. After a nice run south along the bike path from Teton Village we turned towards downtown Jackson and ran on the shoulder of a road for miles 6 through 9. I am never a big fan of running on the shoulder of a road open to traffic, but the views of the valley from road were stunning and Kristin’s favorite memory of the race with good reason. Mile 10 was my absolute favorite of the race – we were back on the bike path and surrounded by mountains on all sides, it was completely surreal and felt like we were in a movie. The last two miles were pretty rough, a steady uphill climb through the neighborhoods surrounding downtown Jackson on tired legs and more tired lungs, but once we saw the finish line we smiled and knew our 35th state was in the books!
Highlight: The mountain scenery along this course is pretty hard to top.
Tip: Ask a race veteran what to do on race morning and you will hear some weird tips, but a recurring theme is sure to include: “don’t do anything on race day that you haven’t done before.” While this wasn’t our first rodeo (ok, it was our first rodeo but not our first half marathon) I kind of dropped the ball on this one and opted to go for the free pre-race acupuncture, even though I had never had acupuncture before. Whoops. 10 of the 11 needles didn’t really feel like anything but the needle the ‘guru’ placed in my left knee immediately felt like white lightning down my leg. Shortly after this wake up call, my right calf balled up in a painful cramp. Ouch. I am really an idiot for doing this 15 minutes before a race, but you only live once!
Day 1 (Friday):
We began our adventure in Wyoming with a hike at Jenny Lake near the base of the Grand Tetons mountains. The weather was perfect so we decided to take the boat ferry ($7 per person) across the lake and hike 2.5 miles back to the car. The views of the lake and mountains from the boat are unparalleled and well worth it. After about 5 minutes of hiking we ran into two other hikers who had just been spooked by a grizzly bear apparently 20-25 feet from the main trail. Kristin and I had no plans to be bear bate and wisely decided to turn around and avoid that section of the trail. Other than great views of possibly the prettiest mountains in the US, we also saw some Marmots (kind of look like the spawn of a squirrel, groundhog and beaver).
After a super quick packet pickup we stopped for dinner at Trio. This bistro style restaurant was fairly small, but the ambience was nice. The soups – cream of asparagus and BLT (yes, bacon, lettuce and tomato) – were so-so and very rich. I actually think the BLT soup tasted more like pasta sauce than soup, which was a bit disappointing. The main course made up for the sub-par soup though, as the sautéed Alaskan halibut with Yukon potatoes and artichokes was fantastic and probably the best halibut we have ever eaten. The locally brewed Old Faithful Ale was light and paired well with our fish dish.
Nothing like washing down some great fish with gourmet chocolate from Coco Love for dessert! We tried a few different pieces (peanut butter, raspberry, expresso and double dark chocolate) - everything was dark, fresh, rich and super chocolately.
Day 2 (Saturday - Race Day):
After enjoying some post-race pizza and sticking around for a pretty impressive raffle (we didn’t win anything, but there were a ton of really decent prizes given away) we drove up the block to the Snow King Resort and rode the Alpine Slide! After riding a chair lift for the first time in my life and basically clenching the metal bar for dear life we finally arrived at the top and each climbed aboard a plastic sled with rollerblade wheels and whizzed 2,500 feet down the mountain. A little expensive, but pretty fun and glad we did it.
Still pretty full from the pizza, we decided to quench our thirst with some suds at Snake River Brewery. Here we sampled the entire beer menu and enjoyed the wild game pub mix (crackers, cheese, summer sausage and wild game jerky). Our plan was to find our favorite beer (hands down the Pako's IPA) and stick around for a drink, but the sampler was huge and we really wanted to get cleaned up before our massage.
Since our trip fell right between both of our 30th birthdays, we decided to treat ourselves to a post-race massage at Chill Spa in Teton Village. We were both a bit sore from the race and it felt good to just relax for a little while.
For dinner neither of us was in the mood for anything fancy, we both just wanted something easy, quick and good. After a bit of searching online Kristin found a casual Mexican restaurant called The Merry Piglets, which fit the bill perfectly. This was exactly what we were looking for – simply good Mexican food. Kristin enjoyed the soft-shell chicken, cilantro and onion tacos and I destroyed the chicken burrito with green chilies. The $5 monster margaritas served in a pint glass were pretty solid too. This place is a winner.
One item on our bucket list was to see a rodeo and we figured there was no better venue than the Jackson Hole Rodeo. We were both thinking the rodeo might be a bit hokey and didn’t plan to stay for the whole show, but we actually had a really good time watching the bull riding, bare-back bronco riding (no saddles with the riders feet literally above the horses head), calf roping and barrel racing. Even the tiny-tot seven year old bull riding was really entertaining. The announcer did a great job keeping the crowd involved and entertained during the entire rodeo. Glad we went – we both really enjoyed the rodeo.
Watching bull riding really works up an appetite, so we decided to head over to the Snake River Grill to try the famous Eskimo Bars (brownie covered with vanilla ice-cream and incased in chocolate, served with a side of warm caramel). Holy cow was this good! Kristin’s idea to pair this dessert of the gods with a glass of the Bin 41 port was an excellent idea - very very good.
Day 3 (Sunday):
Free breakfast at the Snake River Lodge - meh.
Our tour of Yellowstone was really a giant loop where we hoped to see a lot of the highlights of the park. After arriving in the park and seeing our first grizzly bear (no picture as it was ~1/4 mile in the distance and all we could barely see was the head - but the ranger on hand assured us it was a grizzly) we drove up to the West Thumb Geyser Basin for some great views of Lake Yellowstone.
We enjoyed a nice and quiet 2 mile run/walk along the Lake Overlook path, which provided some great views of Lake Yellowstone from an elevated position.
After we cooled down a bit (it was really tricky trying to gauge the temperature as the wind made it chilly, but then we would start sweating pretty quickly while hiking/ running) we stretched the legs with a one mile loop around some awesome thermal features (small geysers, venting pools, springs and cones) in the West Thumb Geyser Basin.
We managed to time our stop at Old Faithful perfectly (totally be accident) – we only waited about 3 minutes to see the famous eruption! This part of the park is super crowded, but the geyser is on fairly flat ground circled by boardwalks so you can escape the crowds a bit and everyone still have a view.
Next, we decided to go for an afternoon hike up Geyser Hill to Observation Point, which offered some great views of the Old Faithful village area. While hiking up Geyser Hill we stumbled upon some elk grazing along the trail – and after a brief once-over they realized we weren’t very threatening and continued eating their lunch. From there we continued about a mile to Solitary Geyser, which was secluded and very peaceful. If I had a six-pack I would have just sat there with Kristin soaking in the rays and enjoying the sulfar-laced air with some suds! Solitary Geyser was absolutely one of our favorite spots in Yellowstone.
We continued our hike on the boardwalk to the North end of Old Faithful Village to check out the oddly shaped Grotto Geyser and incredibly prismatic Morning Glory Pool. The colors in the pool have nothing to do with terrain, and are actually the result of bacteria that grow around the edges of the mineral-rich water and range in color from green to red based temperature of the water and ratio of chlorophyll. Pretty spectacular. As our hike continued with stumbled upon a small herd of buffalo gathered in a clearing soaking up some shade and eating grass. It was really neat to see these animals in their natural habitat – more or less uninterrupted by mankind.
All that hiking earned us a nice sit on the glider swing on the porch of the Old Faithful General Store to enjoy a locally brewed huckleberry honey ale (actually decent beer, the huckleberry was present but not overpowering). No one seemed to mind that we were just soaking in the scenery with a glass of suds outside, which suited us just fine!
Tip: The general store in the Old Faithful Village had a surprisingly good selection of local and craft beers at reasonable prices.
Being a captive audience (you have three options for dinner in the Old Faithful area) the restaurants get pretty crowded around dinner time, so we sampled another local brew – the Bent Nail IPA – in the bar before our table was ready at the Snow Lodge. We were hungry from a long day of driving and hiking and the bison burger and buffalo short ribs (paired with a Moose Drool brown ale) more than did the trick, both were tasty.
Day 4 (Monday):
After a less than full night of sleep (staying in the Old Faithful Inn may be the “classic way” to really experience Yellowstone, and while the room was pretty quaint in a log-cabin way, it was hot and the wood throughout the building creaked all night and every footstep above us sounded like thunder) we dragged ourselves out the door for a highly anticipated 5 mile trail run to Lone Star Geyser. This run was primarily on a fairly wide old service road (watch out for pot holes and thick mud) and is a pretty easy and enjoyable run. Before the run we had read online that their was an official log book at the trail head, which you could use to time your run around an eruption (erupts every 3-4 hours), but the book is actually at the geyser itself, so it’s a bit of a crap-shoot on whether you will see an eruption or not. We noted Lone Star was “in quiet time – maybe sleeping” on our log entry. Very pretty trail along a winding river and we had the entire trail to ourselves, which was kind of nice.
The Fountain Paint Pots offered our first view of mudpots in Yellowstone and looked like bubbling latex paint. The area was more or less on a flat plane, so the wind gusts were intense. That combined with the large crowds in the area made for a quick, but enjoyable foray with the mudpots.
Continuing towards the Mammoth Hot Springs area the drive was windy but very pretty. There was a bit of white knuckle driving though as several times the fairly narrow road was literally on the side of a cliff. We stopped for a quick hike in the Porcelain Basin area to see the Steamboat Geyser, the world’s largest active geyser. As a word of caution, it may be technically be “active” but it hasn’t erupted in over 5 years, so don’t hold your breath!
The Artist Paint Pots area is one of the most overlooked places we visited. There are over 50 multi-color mudpots, thermal features and small geysers along a very easy 0.5 mile trail with some incredible views of the terrain and mountains in the distance from the top of a very short uphill. This is a don’t miss stop!
Kristin satisfied her craving for a hot-dog with a bison dog at the Mammoth Hot Spring Grill. I have to say this was a pretty darn good dog.
We decided to spend the afternoon in Bozeman, Montana to see the city and sample some local beer. It’s a bit of a drive (~80 miles each way from Mammoth) but the speed limit is 75mph almost the entire way, so it’s not too bad. The drive looked like something out of a movie – no other cars for miles and just driving straight towards the Bridger Mountains that nestle the town of Bozeman. We each enjoyed a pint of the Bozone IPA at the Bozeman Brewing Company, but it was disappointing that we couldn’t take in the mountain views as the tasting room didn’t have any outside seating and faced a parking lot :(
We wandered around downtown Bozeman for a bit and saw an oddity – a two person horse drawn carriage that apparently was used as the primary form of transportation for this couple. I know gas prices are high, but this was just ridiculous.
We dined at Montana Ale Works, a local restaurant which offers an impressive selection of locally brewed beers. The chicken quesadillas were very satisfying – great flavor with a little heat – but the best part of the meal was the Nitro IPA (kind of like the love-child of a Guinness and an IPA) and a small-batch release IPA brewed by Bozeman Brewing Company. Even though it was about 8:30pm, it was still pretty light out on the drive back to Yellowstone, which gave us a great view of the iconic park entrance.
Day 5 (Tuesday):
We opted for another early morning rise to get in a 6 mile trail run on the Beaver Ponds Loop. There are some semi tough hills in the first mile and more than once we had to carefully watch our step for larger rocks but the views are incredible. A little more than a mile, the hills really started to eat us up and from that point on we ran up hills when we could and power-walked when it felt like our lungs were going to collapse. A few miles in we came across Beaver Ponds, with still enough water that it looked like a postcard. The sky was an absolute gorgeous shade of blue and made the run even better. The next few miles we continued through some forest areas and were glad we had our bear bells on as it kind of felt like the forest was watching our every move. Even if we didn’t see any animals, we’re pretty sure they saw or heard us. The last mile of the trail was down a switch back trail that dumped us out at the Liberty Cap, just a small distance from our hotel.
Tip: Starting at the trailhead behind Mammoth lodge is plenty challenging (especially running), but if you are a running freak or just want to see if can make your lungs explode from an extremely difficult uphill climb for the first mile start at the Liberty Cap instead.
Post-run we checked out the attractions in Mammoth Hot Springs, including the Liberty Cap which really looks like Papa Smurf or a prehistoric warrior face, and the Minerva Terrace, which looks like someone built perfect little steps to the top of the geyser.
After leaving the Hot Springs area we saw a sign for ”petrified tree” and decided to check it out. Pretty unimpressive rock like tree locked up behind a fence – not sure who or what they are keeping out. Not worth the stop unless you are planning to hike in that immediate area.
While there wasn’t a specific destination in the Lamar Valley that we wanted to see or a place we wanted to hike, we’re both really glad that we took a drive through this area. We saw more animals in this section of Yellowstone than any other area (buffalo, deer, antelope and eagles) and the rolling hills and open plains really make you think about how the US looked hundreds of years ago.
After lunch at the Tower Falls general store we headed back on the road and were quickly rewarded with our first and only bear sighting close enough to snap a photo and stand in awe of these animals (mama black bear with two cubs - who were learning how to climb trees).
The Grand Canyon of Yellowstone was one of our favorite areas – the waterfalls, hiking and views were just astounding. Our first stop was at Artist Point which gives you a great view of the Lower Falls. It was a bit windy at the lookout point, but the clouds and sky were gorgeous, which made our photographs look more like paintings.
Next we ventured down Uncle Tom's Trail (319 steps each way) to get up close and personal with the Lower Falls. On our decent we even saw a rainbow emanating from the falls. At the base of the falls, you could hear the shear power of the rushing water behind you, which was pretty cool.
Tip: This trail is not for the faint of heart – we were both sucking wind on the way up, but the views and sounds of the falls are worth it.
The Upper Falls are worth a quick photo, but nowhere near as impressive as the Lower Falls.
After seeing the base of the Lower Falls from Uncle Tom’s Cabin Trail, visiting the Brink of the Lower Falls was pretty amazing. It’s incredible the volume of water that rushes over the falls every second – we joked that it seemed like someone could just turn a knob and stop the falls! The trail is not super difficult (paved) but it is full of switch backs as you wind back and forth towards the brink. Definitely worth a stop.
We hopped on the North Rim Trail at Lookout Point and headed towards Inspiration Point. Again, to our shock the trail was completely empty as we walked along the north rim of the canyon we were treated to some incredible views and a few heart-pounding moments when we realized just how far the canyon floor was from the rim. The hike itself was enjoyable, but Inspiration Point was only ok – very windy and there were a lot better views of the canyon and falls from a number of other places along the North Rim Trail.
When we stopped for lunch that day we bought a really nice bottle of Trout Hop (Black IPA), but seeing as wanted it cold we pulled a MacGyver move and placed the bottle inside a bag of ice and hung it through another plastic bag from the rear seat! When time came to wait for a table at the Canyon restaurant we pulled out our Trout Hop, a few plastic cups and sat by the fire to enjoy our brew. One of our better ideas – considering it snowed that night! Being the first week of heavy tourist traffic a number of the park restaurants bombarded us with customer satisfaction surveys. We had a great server at Canyon and our comment card reflects it (ok, maybe I got a little carried away drawing pictures though).
Day 6 (Wednesday):
After a surprise snow dusting, we packed up and went to the load the car when we stepped outside of our cabin to this guy with just a touch of snow on him. He gave us a quick once-over and apparently decided his grass breakfast was more interesting.
The Mud Volcano area was a nice little walk along a boardwalk loop where we saw what we think is a coyote foraging for food on the thermal grounds (pretty sure the water has silica and arsenic in it, so hopefully the coyote knew what he was doing). The highlight in this area was Dragon’s Mouth, a cave with steam coming out of the entrance that sounded like a roaring as the water crashed inside the cavern walls. Check out the video Kristin took of Dragon's Mouth here!
Lake Yellowstone is the largest lake in the US above 7,000ft. The lake is indeed massive in size and provides the perfect backdrop for some early morning photos.
We stopped in downtown Jackson Hole for lunch at the Bunnery where both thoroughly enjoyed the Grand Teton breakfast burrito (eggs, green peppers, onions, ham and bacon) with green chills. No question this was the best breakfast we had in Wyoming. We also picked up a blueberry and raspberry scone for breakfast at the airport the next morning (the corners were a bit stale, but overall they were good but the raspberry was better than the blueberry).
We ventured off to Mill Iron Ranch for an incredibly scenic horseback ride up 2,000 feet of elevation gain. The views of the Grand Tetons and the surrounding mountains from a 360 degree vantage point at the top of our trip were spectacular. We did feel a bit bad for the horses toting us up and down a mountain, but we made sure to provide plenty of petting and words of encouragement for our thoroughbreds along the way.
After surviving my first ever chairlift experience days earlier, Kristin talked me into taking a second ride up Snow King Mountain to walk the short nature trail. I’m still not sold on riding chairlifts, but our legs were pretty sore (and a bit chafed) from riding horses so it was still a better option than hiking up the mountain. At the top we were treated to some Japanese drumming to celebrate the local Fire Festival in Jackson Hole as we strolled the easy mountain top trail.
Post-race we were pretty beat and didn’t really get to enjoy the Snake River Brewery so we headed back on our last night for dinner. The chili was hearty, warm and not too spicy and the thin cheese pizza was very basic and exactly what we wanted. The coup de grace was asking our server to make a Stout float – yes, a beer float with vanilla ice cream – and it was so good that we both think they should add it to their menu.
Wyoming Half Marathon Medals
June 16, 2012: Jackson Hole Half Marathon