Yellowstone Vacation

The Second Yellowstone Vacation

This was our second time visiting Yellowstone – the full story below.   If you have not been there I highly recommend it.  I have been there twice and both times a unique and amazing experience.

18 Days
14 FREE planes flights, 7 people (not including the flight to NY, which was also FREE)
10+ FREE Hotel nights, some for two rooms
3,532 miles driven by rental van (actually over 5,532 if you count both vehicles)
FREE Lunch + Dinners (Olive Garden, Outback, Red Robin, Pizza Hut, Subway)

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Lions – Tigers – Bears – Oh My……

OK, really what wildlife did we see?  Deer, moose, chipmunk, pronghorn, ground squirrels, bison, beaver, ducks, elk, rabbits, bear, fox, swan, pheasants, wolf, marmots, and a turkey.    That is a REAL list ….. We kept track!

From Orlando the five of us flew FREE to New York to visit relatives. Then on July 3rd we departed to Salt Lake city to start our adventure. This all started months ago when my brother-in- law John, wanted to go on a Frugal Vacation. He had heard of our exploits and wanted in!    So, with a few pointers he was able to acquire free flights for his family and several FREE hotel rooms.

Why Yellowstone – Well we talked about California, Oregon, and Washington. All excellent places to visit, and those would have been more Frugal places – since there are more chain hotels etc…. But Yellowstone has most nature and greatest variety of things to see.  My family had visited Yellowstone about 8 years earlier.

It’s not Disney, you never know what may happen – possibly nothing at all. But as you will see and read below – several once in a lifetime events occurred during this adventure.  Warning if you go – please realize this is NO Zoo, Wild Animals far from emergency assistance.

Now the trip July 3

The original flight was delayed 2 hours. So we booked another flight. We arrived in Salt Lake at 10:40 PM.  Flying three different airlines to our destination.  This made all of our flights were FREE. We all landed within 30 minutes of each other…..while John waited for his family to land.  I went to pick up my rental car.

I booked the rental vehicle a “Dodge Caravan or similar” through  It’s the cheapest out of pocket place to rent a vehicle. Rent early and keep checking the site – prices go down. I re-rented the vehicle online three times for a lower price all on  Also be sure to rent using a credit card that has PRIMARY rental insurance.  Most have secondary insurance, which means your personal car insurance pays first.  I used my chase United Airlines card which provides primary insurance coverage.


Well, arriving Enterprise…. I was told ” unfortunately we do not have a minivan”. I explained I made the reservation over a month ago……and that answer was not acceptable. I explained that I understand that it was not the workers fault, but the companies fault…. The rep they would upgrade me to a suburban.  OR that if I could find a minivan at one of the competitor’s that they would pay the difference in cost if the rental was more.  He said “Whatever will make you happy”  My answer – that’s simple provide the minivan I reserved.

 “Really, you want me to go walking around looking for a minivan from another rental company — I am not working – I am on vacation”… or I could take the upgrade to a suburban. Really, a suburban is not an upgrade….. its totally different. It’s big and burns through gas FAST….

The wife give me that – your being difficult look and says go take a look at the suburban — like I had never seen one before…… well out I go.  On the way I thought to myself… if this is the only thing I can do they need to
provide collision and liability insurance for FREE and pay the difference in the cost of GAS, then I can go 4 wheeling.  (Did I ever tell ya the story about when I totaled a rental, returning only the keys – that’s for another time…)

When I get to the garage I told the representative in front of me –  before I reject the rental I need to look at the Suburban…. but I rented a minivan.  She said we have one minivan.  OK, well at the front desk they don’t know

Problem solved…. we loaded our stuff in the Mini Van and waited for John and family.   After about 20 minutes he appeared.  He also rented a vehicle from enterprise. He rented a RAV4 or similar. Ha, guess what – they upgraded
him to a …… you guessed it a Suburban!


Off to McDonalds to eat – one of the only places open at midnight.


July 4th

 Staying in Holiday Inn Express Sandy Utah, for FREE.  Got up and had FREE breakfast, then headed to Walmart to stock up on provisions.   Could not find a cooler we liked…. until we found one just sitting by itself on the floor….. a quick look around to see if it belonged to anyone… then it was ours!


Well while everyone was busy in Walmart – I purchased beef jerky, went out the Secret Service vehicle – I mean Johns Suburban and placed the beef jerky in the grill, trailer hitch and any nook and cranny I could find. You know for the bears to find. I guess the ones placed under the windshield wipers gave it away!

While John was not looking I added a few things to his cart, coffee creamer, drink mix.  Since his family was adding stuff I wanted to see what I could get him to buy.  They caught it all though – it was fun to watch them question each other – “Did you put that in here?”

John was amazed at how much be bought at WalMart.  He did not realize that were we are going there are no chain restaurant’s on every corner…  Plus this is a Frugal Vacation!

Stayed in Colter Bay Cabins, 2 nights, July 4,5

July 5

Woke to see sunrise at oxbow bend, and Jackson Lake dam, then went back to the cabin for a nap.


Then off to look for moose, no luck.  But we saw some beavers and old barns on Mormon row, and of course took pictures.   We saw our first two Bison next to the road.     A little to close for the girls….


Stopped at sting lake trail head and walk a little.   Found some warn Grizzly Bear Scat.   That made the walk a bit shorter.   So then we went to leeks marina for pizza and calzones.











July 6

7/6,7 Best Western Cody

Woke for the sunrise (4am) along schwabacker road.  The ranger recommended this place, it was away from the noisy tourists – we ended up being the noisy ones!  Several professional photographers at this location!














Rented boats at Colter bay marina.  Had lots of fun on the water!

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Bought Ice cream sandwiches at the gas station (see video).  Drove to Yellowstone had lunch at the snake river picnic area.

Saw old faithful geyser.  Went to the west thumb basin to see the pools and springs.  Saw two elk and a baby walk across the boardwalk.











Then off to Cody – July 7  Stayed at the best western in Cody 2 nights.  After our FREE breakfast we went to the Buffalo Bill museum. 144image139image138image

Excellent museum, largest firearm collection in the US.

Saw a shootout at the Irma hotel and had dinner.   Saw some interesting people along the way….




















July 8

7/8,9,10  Stayed at Country Inn + Suites Bozemon (FREE)

FREE Breakfast again, then started back to Yellowstone.  Saw the mud volcanoes, and got very close (to close) to some Bison.  Three Bison, one at each hot pool.


Stopped at Wapati lake for lunch.      Then saw a Momma a Grizzly bear cubs.

Saw Artist point falls, it was raining hard but that did not stop us.   Through Lamar valley we saw some pronghorn, elk and even baby foxes.     Then onto the hotel in Bozemon, stopping at a Subway along the way.

















July 9 – Drove to Hayden Valley where we saw the Momma Grizzly and her cubs eating a Bison.  We then went to Sulfur Calderon and back to the bears.  This is when we saw the Momma bear scare off her 5 year old daughter, and then the Bison came across the street to pay their respects to the dead Bison, grunting, snorting and sparing for mates…  See the video, that is sure what is seemed like!202image


Then during a restroom stop, we all attempted to cross a log over the river (see video).


Video Bison Move to morn death

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Video Momma chases daughter – Several more videos in playlist.

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July 10 – Stopped in Gardner at a gift shop.   After I saw someone order ice cream and the lady kept piling on scoop after scoop on the cone.  I decided this was a good deal and we all had ice cream!

Saw Roosevelt arch, went to Hayden Valley to see the bears again, also saw a Wolf (far away).   Spent most of the day watching wildlife.  Saw two Buffalo just walking down the street. Drew pictures on the dirty cars.

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Walked up a hill near Dunraven pass, windy and cold.  The temperatures vary grealty from high 40’s to high 70’s.  Saw the petrified tree (really not scared).












7/11  Three Bear Lodge – Woke and decorated the  secret service vehicle – Oh Crikey it’s a Wallabee!  Since that’s what John kept saying.  Went to Mammoth hot springs.  Took a 3 ½ mile walk around the upper and lower terraces of the hot springs.  Ended up at Beaver Lake, climbed some dangerously dead trees (video).     Ordered a few Pizzas and went back to the hotel – Three Bear Lodge.











July 12- We stopped to take pictures near Firehole falls.  John and I were talking about – should we go down to the river, a steep descent.  When he all of a sudden said, where’s my son?  As you may have guessed he was already on the way down – (see video).












Went to see Old Faithful, Castleand Grand Gyser.  Stopped and had ice cream cones.  Then onto Prismatic Pools.


After that adventure we went to Oliver Garden for (FREE) dinner.  Slow service, and charged over $17+ for Alfredo sauce.  They removed that from the bill when John complained.


7/12,13  Country Inn + Suites, Bountiful Ut (FREE)

Back in Salt lake.  Woke up and had FREE breakfast.  The girls went swimming and scrapbook shopping, since this is the scrapbook capitol of the world, so they tell me.  Then we went for (FREE) lunch at Red Robin.  It was good!  John left for the airport.  Then we went to the Morman church and for ice cream at Hatch family chocolates  just to kill time before dropping Kelly and John at the airport.











7/14   Austins Chuck Wagon Motel – Had breakfast and finished laundry.  Drove to Austin Chuck Wagon hotel.  Excellent place to stay – it was a cabin, that was like a small apartment.  Played cards and listened to the thunder and lightning.










7/15   Ruby’s Inn – Woke up and began out journey, stopping at twin rocks, capitol reef, and gooseneck point for pictures.  Stopped at Gifford House for pie and cinnamon roll.   Saw the petroglyphs, and took the scenic drive after it re-opened from flooding.  Drove to Bryce Canyon check into the hotel, then went to watch the sunset.










July 16 – Stayed in Canyons lodge – interesting themed rooms.









Woke early to see the sunrise at fairy-tale canyon and sunrise point.   Then back to the hotel for a nap!  Drove to Kanab, went to the visitors center to find so hiking trails.   Hiked up toadstool trail, then drove a long dirt road to Paria town – an old movie set that had burned down, saw the cemetery.   Walked along the river, picking up balls made of mud and rock.  The girls found five of different sizes.  Saw several Jack Rabbits with really big ears.  Later found that their large ears allow them to keep cool.


We picked up Pizza Hut Pizza for Dinner (FREE)










7/17  Holiday Inn Express Page Az (FREE)












Woke up had our free breakfast at Canyons lodge.  Not very well organized, needed to wait in line.  They are attempting to be an upscale place but really failed at breakfast.

Returned to the visitors center to find a good slot canyon trail.  We hiked into Buskin Gulch which started aling house rock valley road.  A dirt road for 8 miles.  Finally arriving at wire pass trailhead.  Put on sunscreen, packed 9 water bottles into a backpack and we where off….   In the 102+ degree heat the beginning of the trail was along a dry riverbed.  In the sun for the first 1.7 miles.   We each brought 3 water bottles, we drank them all by the end of the journey.

We saw only two groups of people on the hike. The journey was not all in the sun, once into the slot canyon it was cooler, but then we were confronted with several 4 foot drops and one 6+ foot drop.  Which on the way back would not be drops?  Yeah that 6 footer we a challenge on the way back!













After the hike we headed to Page Utah, saw the lake, and the dam.  Then we decided to hike to horseshoe bend.  Only 1 ½ miles round trip.  Well it was deceiving.  Lots of people, tour busses even.  It was up hill and I could see a roof, shaded area and thought that was it.  It was like walking on the beach uphill at 30-40 degree incline – difficult, and hot.   I gave water to a lady who was sitting exhausted on a bench.   When we got to the top, shaded roof area you could then see, you were only HALF way.  The rest of the way was down hill.  Holy Crap…. That’s going to be uphill on the way back.  Well we made it, and back….. the 6 mile hike was more fun, you never knew what was around the next corner in the slot canyon.  Total walking for the day 8.72+ miles


We stayed in the Holiday Inn Express that night (FREE)








7/18,19 Holiday Inn Express Moab, (FREE)

Woke up and went down to FREE breakfast.  It was interesting to see all of the foreign toursits.  A German lady kept cutting in front of, and reaching in front of people.  She would get one thing and return to her table, then get up and get something else, over and over again.  She had several people watching her!

We took a boat tour of lake powell, into a slot canyon.  This is an amazing lake!  Wanted to rent jet ski’s, but on the way back it rained hard.  It stopped, but looked like it would start again any moment.

So on our way to the next hotel, we stopped at a Navajo Indian roadside stand and bought some jewelry.

Also pulled over to take pictures of the thunderstorm and lightning.  We happen to stop right next to a sign that said Forrest Gump ended his walk on this spot!









July 19 – Went to Mesa arch, and stopped at Grand View point overlook – Very High….  Girls made it look like they were falling off the side!  We stopped for lunch and ate with a noisy raven.  Dropped a little food and noticed the Large ANTs.  Had fun watching them work.

We drove to Arches and saw the North and South window, delicate arch and others.   Went to the hotel and waited till midnight, then back to Arches.   We drove deep into the park, along the way I saw several large rat type animals I had read about – cross in front of the car.   We arrived in a parking lot, turned off the car and went outside to look at the stars.  AMAZING, it was so dark the sky was filled with light.  More stars that I have ever seen.  The girls encourage us to lay on the ground and we did, seeing several shooting stars.  Then something moved, and we go up quick!    We continued to watch the sky, then back to the hotel.































7/20   Country Inn and Suites-Southtowne UT (FREE)

Even after being out past 1 am, we woke at 5:30 for sunrise over the arches.  Took photos at Arches National Park, then back to the hotel for a nap.  We left the hotel about 1PM —- onto Salt Lake.

We arrived at Salt Lake City and the girls looked for another scrapbook store, but did not find a good one.  We checked into the hotel.  A very nice County Inn and Suites.  In time for the reception, free beer, wine, softdrinks, cheese, crackers, eggrolls.  So, we had a little, but I had already told the girls we would goto Roadhouse for dinner.   We went to Roadhouse for our (FREE) dinner, then returned to the hotel.












July 21 – We weighed out luggage, moved a few things around and we were ready for the airport.   Cleaned out the Minivan and gave the rest of our water and drinks to some construction workers at the hotel.   I left my bear spay with Woody at the front desk to pass onto another family.

The end of another Frugal Vacation!













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