Day 1: Welcome Wyoming
For me, we officially began this Adventure by Disney when we flew into the Jackson Hole, Wyoming airport. Located within a national park, the plane approaches the airport by flying over the Teton mountain range. These mountains -- and the sky surrounding them -- are one of the most magnificent, awe-inspiring sites I've ever seen! (And I've been to Egypt and seen the pyramids)... This "approach" was worth the adventure all in itself, imho. Tip #1: Have your window open and your camera ready as you fly into Jackson Hole airport.
As usual, we were greeted by one of our friendly Adventures by Disney tour guides who made our transition from the airport to the Wort Hotel in Jackson Hole seamless and fun. Our second tour guide was waiting at the hotel and -- again -- got us settled with flair and panache. (Our tour guides, Chris and Chris, were excellent! I will using my thesaurus all through this review to find new words to describe just how good they were) If it can be said that the quality of a tour guide makes or break a tour, then get ready because our Quest for the West is really about experiencing the BEST
Ah, the Wort Hotel! A little piece of the Old West refurbished to modern elegance...
Our room was delightfully cozy.
and the desk came equipped with a high speed internet connection (There were also a couple of computers in the lobby for guest use)
We had the afternoon to rest, relax, and check our emails before our Welcome to Wyoming dinner. Here I am "styling" in the lobby while we waited for the event to begin...
while Alan waits graciously (pretending he's the calm and reserved one. It won't take long for that myth to be shattered)
We began our dinner with a fun "getting to know each other better" game. A good idea when you consider these will be our fellow adventurers for the next week. After introductions, we selected salad and sides (scalloped potatoes, grilled veggies, etc) from a buffet and waiters came around with grilled salmon and steak. The food was hot, fresh and delicious! And the extra special "Disney flair" was our live entertainment...
He was GOOD!
At the end of the evening, "the Chris's" gave us an overview of the next day and where and when to meet for what. Stay tuned, and I'll tell you all about it
Day 2: Teton Pioneer
Tip #2 Elevation of Jackson Hole is 7200 feet, and we are only going higher throughout the trip. It's natural to feel out of breath or experience a headache as the body acclimates. Drinking water... more water than might seem natural... is one of the best ways to make the process of elevation acclimation go smoothy.
Jackson Hole is a "quaint" little Western town, themed throughout with wood sidewalks and wild mountain skyline.
The town center is a park with Majestic elk antler entrances...
We had the morning 'free' to explore (aka shop), and We did! It was amazing to me how many items we didn't know we needed until we saw them in one of the many boutique Western shops that line the streets of Jackson Hole We barely made it back in time to meet the group and head over to the Jackson Hole Playhouse for lunch.
Now a themed "Western Playhouse" with nightly musicals, the building started out as a stable and Livery. Much of the old structure is still intact, and it has become one of the famous historical sites of the town. We were there for a special themed lunch, straight from the Good Ole West. We had buckets of salad and chilled boot glasses...
and best of all... GREAT food. Alan chose Salmon Tacos
and I chose Vegetable Quesadillas (There was a vegetarian option on every menu; >)
It was yummy and fun with a touch of Disney magic. What more could anyone want from a lunch? We traipsed back to the Wort Hotel (a block away) and made a quick change into river rafting attire. Tip 3: The water temperature is always chilly, and sometimes the air temperature is, too Be sure to bring pants and tops that are synthetic and dry quickly to prevent the extended chill of cold, wet cotton on your skin.
We were luckee duckees. The temperature was an unusual 88 degrees for our water adventure; all I can say is the faeries of the Universe were taking good care of us. We rode through scenic mountain country until we found our way to the River Rafting entrance where we donned our gear.
For us, it was an 8 mile ride of giggles galore! The rapids were mostly class 2 with one class 3, and it was a great thrill ride.. made the river rafting in Costa Rica seem tame. Really, all you have to remember is just keep paddling to maintain your balance (alot like Life, n'est-ce pas?) We were a happy, well-exercised group riding back to Jackson Hole for a 'free' evening on the town. Everyone scattered to find our own unique preference for dinner with plans to meet up in the morning and begin our trek towards Yellowstone National Park.
Day 3: Yellowstone Journey
We packed up our luggage bright and early, leaving it for an Adventures by Disney "fairy" to pick up and transfer to the motor coach while we enjoyed breakfast in the hotel restaurant. Life is good. Day 1 was so much fun; everyone is in good humor and ready for adventure as we head north to Yellowstone National Park through the Tetons.
Here's Chris, one of our awesome tour guides, taking a picture at a road stop we made .. Is he stalking wildlife?
Do you notice the absence of foothills to these majestic peaks? That's due to how they were formed... two of the Earth's plates pushing against each other some 2 billion years ago, creating mountain peaks (The Tetons) and a valley (Jackson Hole). So, if you want to know exactly where that fault line between two large masses of the Earth's crust is look no further. It's right here
Not only is this a major fault line, it was also a route for glaciers many, many years ago. We headed for Jenny Lake, a remaining glacial lake, to ferry across to a hiking trail into the Tetons.
I know we should have been taking pictures of the beautiful lake as we glided across it, but Alan and I couldn't resist playing the 'self-portrait' game.. you can see me holding the camera in the reflection of my sunglasses.
Once on the other side, we began the hike UP. And up and up and up. Through glorious nature.
Past exuberent tour guides (This is Chris, our other fantastic tour guide)
Breathing deeply the mountain air, heart's pumping, climbing up and up and up.. You know the endorphins had to be flowing! Alan got a little too happy at one point, and I caught him right before he decided to go for a refreshing dip
Our first stop, a mile up into the mountains, was Hidden Falls. You have to hike here to catch a glimpse of this beauty!
Then we hiked a "few" more feet up to the Lookout... in front of us we saw
and behind us...
Can you say, "WOW!"? And if the beauty and the thrill of the climb wasn't enough, Chris and Chris pulled out snacks from their backpacks for everyone... including sugar-free trail bars for Alan and me (Be still my beating heart). Once again, the Disney (aka Chris and Chris) touch of going the extra step for guest satisfaction put a little pixie dust in this hike for us. Thank you, Chris's!
The hike down was punctuated by giggles and happy chatter as we continued to enjoy the Western Wilds, wondering what Disney had in store next.
Ah, a picture-perfect picnic lunch!
Made to order box lunches...
filled with all kinds of yummy goodies!
Hungry from the exercise and surrounded by the sweet peace of gentle forest, it might have been one of the best meals I've ever eaten. The company was good, too It was a sweet respite before we climbed on the motorcoach and began the ride into Yellowstone National Park.
We saw LOTS of wildlife during the ride.. a coyote, a grizzly bear (glad it was through the window of the motorcoach!), several antelope..
before we made our first stop to check out some geysers. OK, did you know that Yellowstone National Park is the site of a "super volcano"? The last time it erupted to the level of "super" was approximately 640,000 years ago (give or take a couple), and all of the geyser and hotsprings activity is due to the magma center below the crust of the earth. Cool! Well, hot really Another interesting (to me) fact about the pictures I am about show you is that the color variation is due to the heat-loving bacteria that reside in each formation. In some cases, a type of bacteria will grow in only one geyser or hotspring, making it a Universe in its own right. Now, that -- combined with the awareness that we are standing inside the enormous caldera of a giant volcano looking at these "universes" -- just makes me want to explore profound spiritual concepts... but I digress.
We saw lots of cool landscapes, large and small:
In this next picture, you can see a combination of geyser activity (the white steam) and fire activity (the back smoke higher in the sky) across the distance. Fires play a natural part in the cycles at Yellowstone, and they are left to alone as much as possible.
What a great introduction to the park, eh? It was a good, gentle hike as well. A short drive later, we arrived at our hotel and greeted by what I like to think of as Mother Nature's smile..
The lobby of the hotel was nicely appointed, I think.
And our room, though simple, was spacious.
We found our luggage waiting in our rooms for us, and we had a little personal time to unpack, unwind, or explore until we met as a group for a special buffet. And what a buffet it was! Bison Chili, Elk Medalions, Wasabi Salmon, and kid offerings like Chicken Nuggets and Cheese Pizza (which I was a personal fan of) Dessert was a Huckleberry Cobbler, and they had no sugar added Butter Pecan ice cream for those of us who are of that persuasion.
It was another wonderful evening of good food and good company. I don't know how each day can get better, but it does!
Day 4: Trail Blazers
Breakfast is included daily in every Adventures By Disney tour we've done, including this one. In Yellowstone National Park, the company that handles all eateries does an excellent job, imho, of providing a menu that that spans dietary preferences from Vegan to Low Carb to Biscuits and Sausage Gravy. It was a delight to behold! Alan opted for French Toast every morning
while I chose an option of a lower carb variety...
We headed out to hike the "trailblazer's trail" and enjoy a few more geyer formations. Like Old Faithful.. known for her ability to 'spout' in a timely fashion; >)
This one is called Anemone Geyser...
and this one is Castle Geyser (for the obvious reason)
I discovered that -- if you don't mind the slightly sulfurous aroma -- this a great hike for facial steams
We hiked geysers in the morning, and we hiked geysers in the afternoon. By late afternoon, the rain was our constant companion, but the truly dedicated did the planned scavenger hunt anyway... Alan and I took a nap Evening was 'free' time, and everyone explore on their own; there were still lots of hikes and star gazing available!
Day 5: Untamed Nature
This was to be our last morning in Yellowstone National Park, and we still had LOTS to see! We headed towards the west end of the park to explore the Yellowstone Grand Canyon. Those of you who read my review of the Adventures by Disney tour in Spain may recall how impressed I was with the over 2000 year old - still functioning - aquaduct that the Romans built. Well, Check this out!
This 'aquaduct' was made 14,000 years ago by Mother Nature (aka a glacier), and it's still flowing, too
Tip #4: The weather is changeable! From high 80's in Jackson Hole to low-60's and raining (with snow expected by nightfall) When it says bring a hat and gloves along with a jacket in the preparation manual, there's a good reason to follow the advice
The hike along the canyon took the chill off, of course, but there wasn't any point where I actually felt 'warm'. I did enjoy hugging this tree, though...
After the hike, we drove over to the "other" hotel area in Yellowstone Park and had lunch by the lake (think: giant volcanic caldera)
before trundling into the luxury motorcoach for the drive to Brook's Lake Lodge. We watched a Disney movie and enjoyed the scenery...
Brook's Lake Lodge is at a 9200 ft elevation set back from "everywhere". Needless to say, it is GORGEOUS! From the cozy 'main house' room...
to the comfortable lobby (with free high speed internet; >)...
to the majestic fireplaces...
to the serene views filled with a sense of wellbeing... Brook's Lake Lodge was a great place to be heading!
Day 6: On the Range
Brook's Lake Lodge was most definitely the highlight destination for many of us in the group. Activities ranged from mingling at the bar..
hiking, canoeing, and/or fishing in the nearby lake..
or saddling up for a trail ride..
Horses, of course, were the main event for Alan and me After a luscious breakfast (Meals here were excellent! More on that later:) served buffet-style...
We headed towards the barn to join the morning trail ride. Is it just me or did Alan transmorph into his 'inner' Cowboy while we were sleeping?
If you are interested in riding horses on the this Adventure by Disney, there are a few things to keep in mind. First, the wranglers intend to give you a "western" experience. There are helmets available, but the wranglers won't be wearing them, and they won't be suggesting the guests (except for children) wear them, either. Tip #6: Ask for a helmet. Horses - no matter how wonderful and willing they are - are unpredictable and falls happen even in the most careful of environments. Be willing to take "western" where it hasn't gone before
Most of our group was going, and it took awhile to get everyone mounted. As I sat in the saddle of my fellow, Holler, I noticed that he wasn't in a very good mood. Indeed, I would go so far as to say this guy was irritable. He was refusing my 'requests' and tossing his head. When he started backing into other horses, I thought, "We just aren't 'feeling' each other here, and - I don't know if he's having fun - but I'm not." Long story short - I asked for a different horse. Unfortunately, because most of us were riding, there weren't any extra horses. Some of the wranglers were annoyed with me for disrupting their 'flow'; one of them attempted to 'shame' me into staying on Holler. But, if I learned anything from the horse riding accident in Belize where I was thrown and fractured two vertebrae, it's to trust my instincts about whether to ride a horse.. or not. So, I stood my ground (pun intended) and dismounted. I was disappointed to miss the ride (horses being one of the main reasons I took this tour and all), but I was satisfied with my choice and content to spend some time with horses in the corral while the others rode.
This is where, once again, the tour guides, made Disney magic. They arranged for me to ride on another horse with the head wrangler after everyone returned. Much appreciation to Chris and to the Head Wrangler for making it "work" for me! As I was riding, "my" wrangler explained to me that the horses were taken off their 'grazing rights' on September 1st. So, instead of grazing and running as a herd through the night (keeping themselves warm) as they were used to, the horses were contained in a paddock now with significantly less food. As a result, they were cold, stiff, and hungry when brought out for the first ride... no wonder Holler was fractious! Tip #7 If you can do this tour before September 1st, the horses will be 'grazed' through the night and much happier about their 'work' in the morning
It was a happy Disney ending; here I am heading down the trail...
And the pictures our wonderful tour guide, Chris, took for us as momentos...
In addition to glorious settings at Brook's Lake Lodge, we also had glorious meals! Dinner was a main event with elegant settings...
a four course event with items like Elk Chops...
and Vegetarian Crepes on the menu.
As much as Alan enjoyed the appetizers and entrees, I do think this picture portrays exactly how he felt about the sugar-free Chocolate Souffle they made for us... He's starting in on his second one here.
We could have easily stayed another couple of days at the Lodge. Between the surroundings, the ambiance, food, and excellent company, we were happy, happy, happy! So, it was with nostalgic sentimental feelings that we joined our group for the Finale, sharing a final evening of laughter and good feelings. (Note Alan's firm grip on his souffle)
And then the morning of departure came, and we drove back to Jackson Hole and climbed on a plane to fly home. We left some of our heart in that magical valley... Happy Trails!