Being Mrs. Pierce

Life as a wife, hiker, wanna-be chef, book-lover, traveler, and now, mom

Adventures in Flying with a Baby August 1, 2017

Filed under: Motherhood,Travel — skpierce12 @ 11:38 PM


Part I: Flying to Calgary

Last month John, James, and I prepared to embark upon our first big vacation as a family of three.  Our destination: Banff National Park in Canada.  So not only would this be our first time flying with a baby, it also would be our first international trip with said wee one.  I would have been more nervous at the prospect were it not for the fact that I am a planner.  So, with John’s help, I began preparing several months ahead of time.  We applied for James’s passport in March, and after booking our flights online around that same time I called the airline to make sure we were set to go with having James as a lap infant for the trip.  Check and check.

We also planned our baggage very carefully.  Upon advice from friends and family who have flown with small children, we decided we wanted to take our own car seat instead of relying upon a possibly yucky car rental one.  I bought a car seat cover with backpack straps.  John volunteered to be the one to sport the backpack, but he didn’t promise not to accidentally take someone out with it as we moved through the airport.


We also would take our Pack-n-Play, a diaper bag, and our Chicco lightweight umbrella stroller for James.  Despite having more baggage items due to the baby, we ended up packing more lightly than ever before for a vacation.  We fit clothes and toiletries for all three of us into one large rolling suitcase (although we would have to do laundry at least once during the trip).  I could not help but comment about how I used to completely fill the same suitcase plus a carry-on with just my clothes, shoes, and toiletries.  My, how times had changed.

James is typically an easygoing baby as long as he a) doesn’t get hungry and b) gets sleep.  So our plan for the travel day was to a) keep him regularly fed and b) pray he would take a nap on the plane.  As soon as we cleared security and made our way to the gate, James had his breakfast.  We were off to a good start.


Once on board, James quickly began assessing his new surroundings.  We were glad to see him smiling cutely at the people sitting behind us.  If he could get the grandparent-types on his side early, we thought we might be able to avoid mean stares later on should James not take to flying.


Soon it was time to buckle up for take-off.  James thought the seat belt buckle was the coolest thing ever.  (On the return flight, he would figure out how to unbuckle it himself.)


He did great sitting in my lap or standing between my knees during the flight.  He loved the barf bag and safety brochure in the seat pocket.  We also had bought some new touch-and-feel board books (a current favorite activity of his) to bring out one by one as needed in the air.

An hour into the flight I nursed him, and he fell asleep for a good 45 minutes.  Now we were on a roll!



Before long, it was time for lunch and then time to land.  The end was in sight!


James did incredibly well on the flight to Calgary, which lasted about 3.5 hours from DFW.  I’m not sure if it was the planning, the rocket ship polo and pilot socks we’d dressed him in for the flight, or sheer dumb luck, but the travel day went so smoothly.  At the Calgary airport, he was calm and curious in his stroller while we fumbled our way through customs and getting the rental car.  Then he fell asleep for the entire drive from the airport to our first destination: Canmore, Alberta.  Whew!


It had been a long day (even with things going well), but that evening we were all smiles.  We were thrilled to be in the mountains with a week-long vacation stretched out before us!


Part 2: The Return Flight

We left Lake Louise a little after 9 AM on the day of our return home.  We had a 2-hour drive ahead of us back to the Calgary airport, but with our flight not leaving until 2:30 PM, we felt great about the extra time we were leaving ourselves.  Oh, if only that ended up being the case.

We did make it to Calgary in about two hours, but as we approached the airport we needed to a) let me nurse James (remember how he doesn’t like being hungry?) and b) find a gas station in order to fill up the tank before returning the rental car.  We thought we could do both of those things at once.  We also thought it wouldn’t be a problem finding a gas station as we approached the airport.  Surely there would be one or two visible from the highway, right?

Oh, if only.  Our GPS hadn’t worked the entire trip, and neither of us own smart phones, so when we didn’t just see a gas station outside the airport, we drove around in search of one.  Soon we came across a Tim Horton’s restaurant.  John went inside to use their wi-fi with his iPad while I fed a by-now very hangry baby James.  James, by the way, was atypically fussy to begin with on this day.  I started to get very, very worried.

John located a gas station nearby, but when we got there it was all-diesel except for one pump, and you had to be a member in order to activate the pump.  What?!  So then we had to drive away from the airport to get to the next closest station.  By now it was after 12:00.  We still had plenty of time, though, right?

We finally got gas and went back to the airport, turned in the rental car, and walked into the terminal.  It was now about 12:40, and I let out a big sigh of relief as we went up to the ticket counter to check in.  As it turned out, we would be there for the next hour.

Apparently James didn’t have a ticket, and while this would normally not be an issue for a lap infant, it is an issue when you are trying to clear customs to re-enter the US.  We would have to pay customs taxes for him, which amounted to around $16.  Not a big deal – I took out my wallet.  I was slightly annoyed, as I had called the airline way back in the spring in order to take care of such issues.  But no matter.  We would just pay the fee and continue on.

Oh, if only.  There’s apparently a glitch in the American Airlines software program that often doesn’t allow the agents to ticket infants at the ticket counter.  So the agents called the central American Airlines number.  And they were put on hold.  (I would have laughed at that had it not been a stressful situation).  Then they talked for a bit and I thought we were making progress…only to see them be put back on hold.  This went on for an hour.  Literally.  I am proud of myself for not losing my cool or mistreating the ticket agents who were trying to handle the situation as best they could, but I was frustrated.  We still needed to clear security and US customs as well as buy some food for ourselves, feed and change James, and hopefully give him some time to crawl and play before boarding the plane.

Finally, finally we got our tickets and boarding passes and were on our way to security.  I was frazzled, so I nearly left James’s food (which had been pulled for a special screening) behind at security.  I would have, too, if it wasn’t for the security agent who came after us as we were walking away.  Bless you, security lady.

By the time we cleared customs, we had just enough time to grab some food to take on the plane before our flight was called.  Even after getting our seats on the plane, we were still reeling from the events of the previous three hours.


James, however, was ready to play.  He had been strapped in to either his car seat or his stroller for almost the entire day up to that point.  He wasn’t going to be content with sitting sweetly in my lap this time.


He spent the first hour of the flight alternately reaching for anything and everything he could and trying to make friends with every single person sitting behind us.  At one point he was using the water bottle in his hand to raise and lower the divider screen between us and first class over and over again.  While I purposefully kept my eyes averted from all nearby passengers, James would stand up in our laps, turn around, and smile gleefully at everyone on the plane.  Sometimes he put his hands up behind his head just to amp up the cuteness factor.

Then he fell asleep, and all was calm.  He napped for over an hour, thank goodness.


I finally was able to relax a bit myself, and before long we were on the ground at DFW.  It being DFW meant, of course, that we taxied for 10 minutes to the gate.  That was the only time in two days of flying and a week of travel that James came close to all out losing it.  Luckily his smiles from earlier in the flight had earned him some fans, and we avoided dirty looks once again.  Several women even came up to me in the airport bathroom after we all deplaned to tell me what a good baby I have.  I smiled and thanked them, but inside I disagreed.  James isn’t a good baby; he truly is the best baby.  He was a joy to go on vacation with, and even though we were more stressed at times traveling with a baby, we also had bigger smiles and laughs throughout the week because of him.


Grand Teton National Park: Sawmill Ponds Trail August 5, 2014

Filed under: Hiking,Travel — skpierce12 @ 1:58 PM



During our recent Wyoming trip, my husband and I hiked around Phelps Lake on a Friday, white-water rafted down the Snake River the following day, and then went horseback riding the day after that. Our double date with two horses named Rex and Whiskey was set for 2 PM that Sunday afternoon, so John and I fit in the easy, 1.4-mile hike at Sawmill Ponds late that same morning.


The Sawmill Ponds trailhead sits at an overlook off the Moose-Wilson Road. We stopped at that same overlook the morning of our Phelps Lake hike and had seen a cow moose and her baby wading in the water. Hoping for additional moose sightings, we decided to return and walk the short, out-and-back trail.


When the trail began, the walkway was wide and easily navigable, thanks to the crowds that pause at the overlook to spy on moose in the wetlands below. Few people (and no moose) were present when we set out on our hike, however, and we would not encounter anyone else (of the human variety, at least) until we returned to the parking area.




Shortly after beginning our walk, John noticed movement in the distance. Using our cheap binoculars, he found two brown spots far away in the trees. I found the same spots using our camera. Our best guess leaned towards elk, which would prove to be the case as we hiked nearer to them.




The trail followed the edge of the cliff that overlooked Sawmill Ponds, a series of small water bodies created by beaver dams.




Most of the trail was in full sun, so we paused for a minute by this tree to cool off in the shade.




There were actually two trail options for hiking above Sawmill Ponds. We stuck to the cliff edge path to better spot wildlife, but another trail (the remains of an unpaved road to and from an old landing strip) existed away from the edge. That trail was wider with less brush to scratch your shins, but it also cut off much of the wetlands from view.




Back by the drop-off, we came around a slight bend in the trail and immediately saw this dark figure in the grass below. What you see is pretty much the only view that we had of this hungry cow moose. Not once, on either the out or the back portion of our hike, did she fully lift her head away from her lunch.




Slightly disappointed in our wildlife sightings on the trail so far, John kept the binoculars poised and ready as we hoped for more.




We paused often on this hike to scan the landscape beneath us. When I tired of fruitless gazing, I turned to the mountains behind me for entertainment.





Just as we neared the end of the trail, a group of brown blurs came into view. With a little zooming courtesy of the binoculars and camera, we found ourselves in a staring contest with a small herd of elk. We felt confident that two of these elk were the two brown spots we had seen at the start of our hike.




Even though we were quite far away, the elk remained wary of us for as long as we were in view.




When we had our fill of elk stalking, John and I turned around and made our way back to the trailhead. We were still hoping to catch sight of a bull moose, but our grass-happy cow moose was the only one willing to cooperate.


We completed the Sawmill Ponds hike in under an hour, and we were glad to have done it–even with the lack of wildlife activity. Had we ventured out earlier in the morning, we might have had better luck. I would recommend this hike to anyone interested in a short, easy hike with wildlife-viewing potential. Just remember to bring your bug spray!  Those mosquitoes love the wetlands.


Grand Teton National Park: Phelps Lake Loop Trail August 4, 2014

Filed under: Hiking,Travel — skpierce12 @ 3:47 PM



After three days of hiking and sightseeing in Yellowstone last month, John and I drove south for our week-long stay in Grand Teton National Park. On our first full day in Grand Teton, the four of us enjoyed a lazy morning at Jenny Lake Lodge and then spent the afternoon floating down the Snake River courtesy of Barker-Ewing. The following day, John and I woke early in order to venture out on the trails in the Laurence S. Rockefeller (LSR) Preserve. We had debated which trail to hike first in Grand Teton, as we wanted to revisit last year’s lovely Jenny Lake hike but also desired to explore new terrain. In the end, we selected the Phelps Lake Loop Trail. It had similar features to the Jenny Lake Loop (easy-to-moderate hiking, stunning lake-mountains-trees scenery, 7 or so miles in length), but would allow us to take in novel sights in the southern portion of the park.


Driving to the LSR Preserve, we came upon a horde of cars and people at an overlook off the Moose-Wilson Road.  Haphazardly-parked cars and gawking, camera-toting tourists were clear indicators of the presence of wildlife.  Most of the time we drove on by, but we knew that moose frequented the area so we stopped, grabbing our camera on the way out of the car.  Sure enough, a cow moose was wading and grazing in the wetlands below the overlook.  We snapped our photos and returned to the car.




As I glanced back for one last look, a baby moose was carefully making its way through the water to join its mother!  I was glad we had stopped.  On our float trip the day before, we spied a bull moose chowing down in the brush along the river.  We had now fulfilled our moose quota for the trip: bull moose, cow moose, baby moose.




We arrived at the LSR Preserve early enough in the morning that we didn’t have to wait for a parking spot (thank you, lady ranger at the Moose Visitor Center, for that tip). We grabbed our hiking pack and bear spray and hit the trail.




On the way to the preserve’s trailhead, we paused to get up close and personal with some cascading water.  The snow-fueled mountain stream was not near as chilly as I had expected.




At the trailhead, John helpfully pointed us in the right direction. We would take the Lake Creek Trail up to Phelps Lake and the start of the Loop Trail.




Not surprisingly, the Lake Creek Trail followed the path of Lake Creek.




The path also could have been named Rocky Road, thanks to the many rocks protruding up from the otherwise-dirt trail. I needed to keep my eyes on the ground beneath me, but…




…this was not easy to do when the mini-rapids of Lake Creek kept gurgling my name!




As the trail neared Phelps Lake, John pointed out the specimens from which we should choose this year’s live Christmas tree.  Were it not both illegal (to cut down) and impossible (to fit inside our house), the perfectly conical shapes of these beauties would make for an impressive holiday display.




We snagged our first view of Phelps Lake as Lake Creek Trail met up with the Phelps Lake Loop Trail.  We would hike clockwise around the lake.




This metal boardwalk above a grassy wetlands area took us slightly away from the lake but gave us a scenic view of Mount Hunt.




Much of the trail, however, kept us near the shoreline of the lake.




We knew the LSR Preserve had its share of bears (hence the bear spray), but this marmot was the largest animal we came across while on our hike.




We detoured slightly away from the loop trail in order to visit Huckleberry Point. This was the closest I got to getting in the lake, although the clear, pristine water did look very tempting.




The trees closed in on the trail at several points in the hike, providing altering shade and light.




A unique feature of the Phelps Lake Loop Trail is the variety of walking surfaces to be found within it. Already we had tread upon rock-filled paths, metal boardwalks, and smooth, soft-pack dirt surfaces. Wooden boardwalks were our next surprise.




As we skirted the opposite side of the lake from where we’d begun, the trail moved up and away from the lake shore. The insect presence kicked up a notch as we came across a sea of wildflowers.





Up until now I’ve been full of praise about this trail, but one word of warning: large boulders teeter along the path, so you may need to hold them up for your hiking partner(s). Eat your Wheaties, folks.




Oh, and wear long pants. Unless you come armed with a machete (which is probably frowned upon by park rangers), you will have to wind your way through an area of lush vegetation that is attempting to reclaim the trail.




But once you survive these travails, you’ll be rewarded with the sight and sound of the babbling creek that feeds into Phelps Lake.





This grove of aspens was rather pleasant to look upon, as well.




A small strip of beach then beckoned to us, but a small family had already claimed the area for wading and we did not want to intrude upon their fun.




From this side of the lake, the sun shimmered splendidly off the water.




As we neared completion of the loop, we kept the lake in view on our right through the trees.




I especially loved the soft, reddish soil that made up the walkway on this section of the trail.




We took the Woodland Trail back to the LSR Preserve trailhead, and I took the opportunity to have one last bit of rock-related fun.




We hiked the 7-mile trail in 3 and a half hours, averaging 30 minutes per mile. Other than the inclines on the Lake Creek Trail and one section of the Loop Trail, the hike remained fairly level and easy. It turned out to be a comparable hike to the Jenny Lake Loop, as we had anticipated, and it had the benefit of being less crowded. While the Mount Washburn hike was my favorite of this trip, the Phelps Lake Loop would remain my favorite in the Grand Tetons.


Yellowstone National Park: Mount Washburn Trail August 3, 2014

Filed under: Hiking,Travel — skpierce12 @ 8:33 PM



After our warm-up hike at Storm Point the day before, John and I were ready to tackle the more strenuous 6.2-mile out-and-back Mount Washburn Trail in Yellowstone National Park. We parked (after a short wait for a parking place) at Dunraven Pass (elevation 8,859 feet) and set off on the trail at 11:30 AM.




It was a sunny and already-warm morning (by Wyoming–not Texas!–standards), and the flies were a-buzzing as we began our ascent.  It would be 3.1 miles of near-continuous uphill hiking, but luckily it would never be very steep.


When the trail began, grasses, wildflowers, and trees covered the surrounding hills.  We found it difficult to keep our eyes on the trail with such beauty before us!






As we made the turn for the first major switchback of the trail, we found ourselves amid lodgepole pines (which thankfully provided a little shade) and with a new view. The canyon of the Yellowstone River was now visible in the distance.





Also visible in the far, far, far distance (or so it seemed at the time): our destination, the fire tower on the top of Mount Washburn.  In the photo below, it’s the smudge on top of the far peak.




Now knowing EXACTLY how far we had to go, we hiked onward (or more accurately, upward). At the turn of another switchback up the trail, a patch of snow greeted us. It was but one of many fun surprises on the hike. Being the Texan that I am, I had to have a picture of me standing on snow in July. We never get snow this deep down south!




Also at this same turn – a closer view of the Mount Washburn Fire Tower. We were gaining on it!




The higher we climbed, the more clear some of our views became. The Yellowstone River canyon walls were now much more easily seen and admired.




While the patch of snow was one highlight of this hike, the most memorable moment came courtesy of a herd of bighorn sheep.




These guys apparently make this portion of the trail and the slope beneath it their home. Descending hikers mentioned the herd to us, and we had been smelling the sheep for at least a mile before seeing them with our own eyes. I had almost given up hope of spotting them, but they were impossible to miss!





It was obvious that the sheep were used to hikers; they barely moved when we passed by.




After taking a ridiculous amount of photos of the bighorn sheep, we hiked on. The fire tower was closer than ever!




This field of wildflowers was a nice surprise as we neared the 10,000-foot elevation mark.




After one final push up the spiraling trail at the top, we were on the peak of Mount Washburn (elevation 10,243 feet). The time was 1:15 PM; it had taken us 1 hour and 45 minutes to cover 3.1 miles. Not record-breaking by any means, but we took multiple water and photo breaks.  (We also spent 15 minutes marveling over the bighorn sheep.)




The views from Mount Washburn were unparalleled. Looking one way, we could see Hayden Valley and the Grand Tetons.




Looking another way, Lake Yellowstone shimmered and shone beyond the canyon.




It was a 360° scenic smorgasbord.


We spent 20 minutes at the peak – taking photos, eating a snack, and signing the register in the fire tower as proof of our triumph. Then we turned around and hiked back down the way we came. Going downhill increased our speed; we made it back to the Dunraven Pass parking area in 1 hour and 15 minutes.


I simply loved this hike, and it remained my favorite of the entire trip. Along with Storm Point, it’s another popular Yellowstone hike, and for good reason. I don’t know of anywhere else in the park where you can experience the sheer exhilaration of seeing Yellowstone all at once. (And did I mention that you get to see bighorn sheep up close and personal?)


Yellowstone National Park: Storm Point Trail August 2, 2014

Filed under: Hiking,Travel — skpierce12 @ 5:07 PM




Last summer John and I fell in love with Wyoming, so this summer we were thrilled to be able to travel there once again. We flew to Jackson on Sunday, July 20 in order to explore Yellowstone and Cody for a few days before meeting up with my parents in Grand Teton National Park for a week-long stay at Jenny Lake Lodge.


On Monday, July 21, John and I drove to Cody, Wyoming via Yellowstone National Park. We stopped a few miles east of Fishing Bridge in order to get in a late-morning hike on the Storm Point Trail, an easy, 2.1-mile (mostly) loop hike. It would be the first outdoorsy outing of our summer trip!




The trail began by Indian Pond, a small body of water surrounded by wildflower-strewn meadows.





A few Canadian geese swam across the pond as John and I passed by.




The trail then headed over a ridge, and we were soon greeted with an up-close view of Yellowstone Lake.





We followed the trail into a forested area nestled along the shores of the lake.





I had to get used to craning my neck in order to see the tree tops – the Texas hill country trees are runts by comparison!





We soon emerged in a rocky, sandy, windy spot: Storm Point. The gray clouds and gusts of wind added to the raw, desolate feel of the place.





The wind did not trouble this sleepy marmot, however.  In fact, he (or she) remained so still, we might not have noticed him except that some friendly hikers told us to look for him on the rocks.




The shoreline of Yellowstone Lake was jagged and rough along Storm Point.




Turning away from the lake, we entered a second forested area. This one was eerily quiet – apart from the wind and creaking trees. It was amazing how such a short trail could yield such a variety of landscapes.




Upon (gladly) leaving the spooky woods, we soon completed the loop trail at Indian Pond and made our way back to the trailhead. We finished the hike in under an hour, thanks to its short distance, relative flatness, and comfortable walking surface. If you’re looking for an easy hike in Yellowstone, I highly recommend this one! It’s a popular one, but we never felt crowded on the trail and the views of the lake from Storm Point were rewarding ones.


Grand Teton National Park: Taggart and Bradley Lakes August 17, 2013

Filed under: Hiking,Travel — skpierce12 @ 3:35 PM



Last month in Wyoming, the final major hike of our stay in Jackson was the Taggart-Bradley Lake Loop in Grand Teton National Park. We had yet to see a bear, which we were hoping to do (at a distance, preferably), and we had heard that the Taggart Lake area was known bear territory. Armed with bear spray (just in case) and a camera, John and I set out on the trail in the cool, early morning hours.




Very early in the hike, we could hear the sound of nearby rushing water. As the sound intensified, we came upon a grove of aspens – my new favorite tree.



Just around the bend from the aspen grove, we found this powerful, boulder-strewn stream. We now had a visual to accompany the noise we had heard. And what a visual it was!




We then veered away from the stream and headed in closer to the Tetons.



One mile in to the hike, we stayed right at a fork in the path to venture up to the southern side of Bradley Lake. The only view of the lake we were granted was one through the trees, seen below.



We followed the loop back down south towards Taggart Lake. This time, the trail took us right to the shore. We snagged a seat on a fallen log for a water and snack break. This was our fourth day in a row of fairly intense hiking, and we were wearing out! The break was a good excuse, though, to linger next to the quiet, still waters.




Before too long, we pressed on, keeping our eyes and ears open for the hoped-for bear sighting. We ended up in a large area of new forest, in which John and I were taller than many of the young trees.



As we completed the southern portion of the loop that would lead us back to the Taggart Lake Trailhead, we stumbled upon a sight that is all-too-common back home: an open field of dirt and low brush. Apart from the smattering of pine trees around the edge of the dry clearing, the landscape appeared to be straight out of Texas! Simply put, it was not the prettiest of spots.



In the end, the most beautiful and scenic parts of the hike all happened up front, with the magnificent stream being the highlight of the trail. We never did spot our bear.

After a picnic lunch at the Leigh Lake Trailhead, we completed one final, short hike up to Leigh Lake before calling an end to our hiking – for that day, at least. Next stop: Lake Tahoe, California!


Jackson Hole Aerial Tram and Rendezvous Mountain Hike August 14, 2013

Filed under: Hiking,Travel — skpierce12 @ 5:00 PM

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While in Jackson Hole, Wyoming last month, John and I decided that we wanted a bird’s-eye-view of the Snake River Valley. We recruited my parents to join us, and thus we were a happy party of four that rode the Jackson Hole Aerial Tram from Teton Village to the top of Rendezvous Mountain one bright and sunny afternoon during our week-long Wyoming stay.




The tram ride is a speedy, 12-minute jaunt that ascends over 4,000 feet from beginning to end.



On our right during the tram ride, we got a good look at the trails we would shortly be hiking.



Once atop Rendezvous Mountain, we no longer had to crane our necks to see the apex of Grand Teton.



The views of the Snake River Valley were impressive, and I enjoyed the fresh perspective on the terrain that we’d been traversing for several days.



The wind roared in my ears, it was so strong, but even that could not dampen my enthusiasm at being on the tip-top of a 10,450-foot-tall mountain peak.



Sharing that moment with my husband and my parents only made the experience that much more memorable.



When we had our fill of mountaintop vistas, we embarked upon our hike. We first took the Top of the World trail, which would lead us to the Summit trail. Our plan was to hike down the Summit trail until it reached the Bridger Gondola, which we would ride back down to Teton Village. In all, our hike would be 3.4 miles in length. According to the guidebook, our chosen trails were either “easy” or “moderate,” but what the guidebook did not tell us was that the trail consisted mostly of large pieces of gravel, which were either uncomfortable or somewhat precarious to walk upon due to the steep grades of the path.




A few patches of ice and snow remained on top of the mountain. I could not believe that we could make snowballs in July!





I was so proud of my dad on this hike. He had knee surgery in March, but he worked hard all spring to get ready for outdoor adventures in Jackson. Armed with his knee brace and walking stick, Dad was able to walk down the steep and rocky trails.



Thanks to her dedication to walking regularly at home, Mom kept pace right with John and me. She is a true  outdoorswoman!



I loved the views as we descended, although the trail made me a little nervous at times when it abruptly fell away to mountain cliff.



This furry guy kept us company for a while.



What a feeling of satisfaction comes with looking back on the trail you’ve just crossed.



We came across a number of rock faces that sent my geophysicist Dad into geek heaven.




Eye-catching flora dotted the landscape.





Eventually we rounded the curve of Rendezvous Mountain and once again faced north. We spied the tram carting a new load of passengers up above our heads.



We also could see the remainder of our path before us. We faced continuing sharp descents before reaching one steep climb up to the gondola.





It was slow and painful on the ascent, but my toes were so grateful not to be going downhill anymore that I did not care! I was not the only one happy to reach the gondola seat and enjoy a relaxing ride down the mountain.




The views on this hike were among the best of the trip, and I loved having my parents along for the walk. Yet due to the roughness of the trail, I cannot say that this hike was my favorite one in Wyoming. Next time, I might just stick with riding the Aerial Tram both up and down the mountain, and save the hiking for somewhere else.


Grand Teton National Park: Snake River Float Trip July 31, 2013

Filed under: Travel — skpierce12 @ 1:34 PM



Prior to visiting Grand Teton National Park, I had repeatedly heard from my parents about two of their favorite activities to do in the park: (1) hike Jenny Lake and (2) float down the Snake River. John and I accomplished activity #1 early on, but it was a few days into our stay in Jackson before we boarded a raft and took to the water.



My parents babysat my niece, Katy, so that my sister, Julie, and her husband, Brad, could participate in the float trip, too. The four of us filled up one half of the boat.



The two-hour float trip took us past stunning vistas of the Grand Tetons.



It also provided glimpses of local wildlife. Look closely and you’ll spot a bald eagle below!



I especially enjoyed all of the Canadian geese that were to be seen up and down the Snake River.




I now can see why my mom and dad include a Snake River float trip among their Grand Teton vacation highlights. It was relaxing and serene on the river, and the view from the boat brought a new perspective to the nearby mountain peaks. The trip also gave us four “kids” a chance to sit and talk with one another for an extended period of time. Thanks, Mom and Dad, for making it all happen!


Yellowstone National Park: Geysers, Mud Pits, and More July 30, 2013

Filed under: Travel — skpierce12 @ 3:59 PM

Yellowstone National Park is enormous and therefore impossible to see in just a few hours, or even a day.  Because my family was based in Jackson for the duration of our Wyoming visit,  we had to see Yellowstone in a day trip.  Knowing that we only had one day, we decided to limit our Yellowstone excursion to the southern loop of the park.


Our first stop: Old Faithful. Unfortunately, our timing was off. We found parking spots just as the geyser erupted, but we were too far away to see more than the top of the spray above the roof of the visitor’s center. We decided to wait for the next eruption, so we snagged prime spots on the now-empty benches and ate our picnic lunch until Old Faithful was ready to spout again.




Before long, our patience paid off. After teasing the audience for a few minutes with small, intermittent gurgling, Old Faithful finally let forth.




Our next stop: Norris Geyser Basin. This geothermal area was one of the oddest–and colorful–sights of our Yellowstone visit. We walked the Porcelain Basin trail, a 3/4-mile trail which consists of a series of boardwalks over and around the geysers and other features that result from the steam and boiling water just below the earth’s surface.




Norris was a smelly place thanks to the presence of sulfur in a number of the geothermal features.




We may have been holding our noses, but my geophysicist dad was in heaven!



Minerals and microscopic life forms somehow manage to thrive in the acidic waters of the Norris area, making for a rather colorful landscape.

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After leaving Norris, we drove to the Canyon area for a view of the Lower Falls of the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone from Lookout Point.

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Both the falls and the canyon were magnificent, but for me, the highlight of this stop was getting to share those scenes with my 19-month-old niece, Katy. Katy and her parents live more than 3 hours away from me, so I do not get to see them very much. It warmed my aunt heart that Katy wanted me to hold her while we stopped at Lookout Point.



At this point in our day, John and I stayed behind at the Grand Canyon to hike while the rest of my family continued on the park loop. After my husband and I wore ourselves out on the South Rim and Uncle Tom’s trails, we continued with our Yellowstone tour, as well.


Next up: Hayden Valley.



The drive through Hayden Valley was a definite high point from our day at Yellowstone. The rolling hills and scenic views of the Yellowstone River gave us pause–literally–on more than one occasion. Hayden Valley is known for its wildlife, in addition to its landscape scenery, and on multiple occasions, we stopped on the side of the road to snap pictures of roaming bison.



Leaving behind bucolic Hayden Valley, we stopped for a visit at the Mud Volcano area. It was as charming as it sounds.



Like Norris, Mud Volcano was a combination of odd geothermal features, such as the Churning Cauldron pictured below. And the air around Mud Volcano was about as rank as the air around Norris – perhaps even more so. We hurried along on the short loop trail.



The scariest feature of Mud Volcano was the aptly-named Dragon’s Mouth Spring.



The steam escaping from the small cave, in conjunction with the echoes from the water splashing up against the cave walls, had me almost believing a dragon was about to crawl out of the cave and attack.



Our final stop of the day: Yellowstone Lake.



We found one of Yellowstone’s general stores with a diner right next to the lake. We munched on burgers, sandwiches, and ice cream as the sun began to set on Yellowstone.



On our drive out of the park, numerous elk and deer could be seen grazing on the roadsides. It was a perfect, quiet, picturesque end to our busy day.



Yellowstone National Park: The Lower Falls of the Grand Canyon July 22, 2013

Filed under: Hiking,Travel — skpierce12 @ 2:07 PM



John and I spent the first week of our western vacation in Jackson, Wyoming with my parents, sister, brother-in-law, and niece. One day early in the week, we all (with the exception of my mom, who chose to catch up on her reading instead of spending most of the day in the car to see sights she’d seen multiple times before) made a day trip to Yellowstone National Park. After touring several of the highlights on the southern loop of the park, including Old Faithful, Norris Geyser Basin, and Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, John and I stayed behind in order to hike the South Rim Trail and Uncle Tom’s Trail in the Grand Canyon area. We wanted closer views of the Lower Falls of the Grand Canyon, one of the iconic images from Yellowstone.


As we approached the parking lot near Uncle Tom’s trailhead, dark clouds began gathering ominously above. Rain could be seen in the distance, but John and I had been looking forward to our hike all day long, so we decided to brave the potential storm. We first struck out on the South Rim Trail with Artist Point as our destination.



We hiked more quickly than we ever have in the past despite several long, steep inclines.  I had to ask John to slow down at one point as a cramp began to make itself known in my side. Clouds or no clouds, however, neither of us could resist pausing (very briefly) to take in the views of the Lower Falls and the canyon from the South Rim Trail.




At one point, I tried desperately to take a self-shot of John and me with the Lower Falls in the background, but the image below was as good as I could manage. After five attempts, we both felt the need to press on. (Pierces are worriers, and those storm clouds were still hovering above.)



When we reached Artist Point, our worries abated long enough for us to fight through the crowds of people at the scenic overlook and simply stand in awe by the beauty before us. God’s creation is truly magnificent.




After waiting our turn for a prime spot, I begged a fellow tourist to snap a photo of John and me with the Falls.



The rain continued to hold off, but we did not want to press our luck any longer by continuing further beyond Artist Point. We headed back down the South Rim Trail the way we had come. We did not feel the same sense of urgency on the return hike, so John and I were more fully able to appreciate not just the majestic views from the rim of the canyon, but also the wooded portions of the trail when the path veered away from the canyon.



John had enough steam left in him to lift this tree trunk out of the way so that I would not have to tax myself by stepping over it. Chivalrous, isn’t he?



Being a modern woman, I, of course, returned the favor.



A clearing appeared to our left, and I spotted a deer making its quiet way across the meadow.



Shortly thereafter, we reached the trailhead for Uncle Tom’s Trail, a steep hike further down into the canyon that was supposed to give an up-close-and-personal view of the falls.



We started down it, stopped, debated about the weather and our stamina, and then finally committed to the trail for real. I say trail, but the majority of the short hike takes place on a metal staircase, not an earthen path.



I fully admit to being nervous as we walked down those metal steps. Being able to see the canyon through the gaps in the metal grating made me tense, and I gripped the railing tighter the further down we went. Yet as the falls came into view, I knew the slightly nauseous feeling I was enduring was going to be worth it.



And then we were at the bottom.  We could feel the spray of water on our skin and our ears were thudding with the sound of the falls.



Suddenly I was all smiles, exhilarated by the natural power I could sense all around me.



We then met an extremely kind Polish woman from Chicago. She took not just one picture of us, but several, until she was satisfied with her photography. I never got her name, but she was lovely, and I was grateful to have crossed paths ever-so-briefly with her.



Finally, it was time to go.  The metal stairs loomed above our heads, and we geared up for the ascent.



As we began to climb, a few drops of rain finally fell upon us. John suggested I let go of the railing, casually informing me that he had seen lightning in the clouds above. I was too nervous about the stairs in general to comply, but I suppose had lightning actually struck, it would not have made a difference if my hand was on the rail or not. Our feet had nowhere other than metal to go.



Luckily, our athletic stamina was the only true factor in our climb.  We were not struck by lightning, but we were winded and tired at the top.  When we paused for one last picture in front of the canyon, neither of us could manage a smile.



We slowly hiked back to the parking lot, where we walked another 50 yards or so to get a view of the Upper Falls of the Grand Canyon. Not nearly as impressive as Lower Falls, the Upper Falls still provided us with one final scenic view from the Grand Canyon area of Yellowstone.




Looking back on this hike, I would rank it as one of the fastest, craziest ones John and I have done. Thanks to the weather, the steep, metal stairs, and the canyon itself, the hike was alternately fun, scary, and insanely beautiful.


I would totally do it all over again.