August Marked the 100th anniversary of the National Parks Service. While we’re a month late in celebrating it there’s never a bad time to celebrate what is, arguably, one of the nation’s greatest achievements. We love to travel and experience different places and the national parks, in my experience, always offer a great opportunity for exactly that. Each one is completely unique and some are different every time you visit. However, as our name might suggest these experiences almost always include a beverage to pair with them. This two part post will cover some of our favorites although it is by no means a definitive list.
So, if I could, let me start with where my fascination with the national parks came from. About five years ago, I know this because Facebook and Google have been telling me so incessantly for a the last few days, I paid a visit to some good friends who live in San Francisco and as a small side trip we took a drive out to Yosemite. The thing that is great about a lot of the national parks is that you can just make a small trip and come and go as you please or, for a lot of them, they are large enough to make an entire vacation out of just visiting the park. This was just one of those small side trips. Let me say, as well, if this is something you are thinking of doing getting an annual pass to the national parks is only $80 and if you’re planning on making multiple trips in a year will easily pay for itself. But I digress. As stated we always like to pair these trips with a beverage and the trip to Yosemite is no exception. For Yosemite we brought a Yamazaki 12. There is something about enjoying one of your favorite whiskys around a campfire beneath one of the most picturesque backdrops in the world that just feels right. The Yamazaki somehow seemed to fit Yosemite perfectly but I will say that typically now on these types of trips I try to find something local just because I am that pretentious. In the bay area there are a number of distilleries that could offer a whiskey that would fit that bill (Try here for a list of a few).
For your first trip to a national park Yosemite is really a choice you can’t go wrong with. Just entering the park is breathtaking and really if you wanted to you could absorb a solid week just camping, hiking and taking in all it’s sites. However, since we only had a day and a half or so this was largely a car trip with one night of camping. The roadtrip version is really fun though too and has it’s own merits. One of those benefits is that you are allowed to have a bit of soundtrack (we put together one on Spotify for you if you'd like) to accompany you and you can cover a lot of different places in a short period of time. We did get some hiking in but the main sites we visited were as follows:
We were also able to ventured out past the Tioga pass to mono lake. For those of you that aren’t familiar Mono lake is famous for a few things. One, it has the large salt formations, known as Tufa’s jutting up out of the water giving it a somewhat otherworldly feel. Two, it is also the location that was used to film Clint Eastwood’s High Plains Drifter. On the way back we stopped at the Whoa Nellie Deli. Tucked in a little gas station on the road back into Yosemite the food is great and you can grab some snacks for the road too.
Having visited Yosemite and been so in awe of the location we immediately began planning to visit the next national park. The next one was a no brainer. The one that started it all.
The sheer scale of Yellowstone meant that we would be making this a road trip too. Something we were familiar with from the Yosemite trip but again because of the size of the park, and the fact that we threw in the Grand Tetons as well, meant much more driving than the Yosemite trip had.
We both flew into Bozeman and drove up to the park on the next day. For someone from the east coast you really are never prepared for the view that greets you as you get off the plane in Bozeman. It really is beautiful and I was gawking like a tourist for sure. As an aside, having grown up in Vermont, I have some idea of how the beauty of a landscape can become unnoticeable to people that see it every day. I can remember many times being greeted by tourists growing up who wanted to tell me how amazing my home was and being completely dismissive of it. That is exactly the way I was greeted by the girl working behind the desk at the hotel in Bozeman when I checked in. I was still thinking about the landscape and commented on it to her. My response was just a shrug of the shoulders that said “Yeah, I guess it’s beautiful if you say so.”
As I waited for my friend who was meeting me for this trip I decided to pop over to the local liquor store/rundown corner casino and pick up something to accompany us on the trip. For a visit to the first national park it seems fitting to take a bourbon, our national spirit, with us. In many ways bourbon and the national parks have quite a bit in common. The laws that, in essence, created or at least officially protected them both were enacted in order to preserve something uniquely American. In the case of the national parks the idea was that while the United States didn’t have the great architectural achievements that Europe did there were these amazing landscapes and that these should be preserved and treated with the same sort of respect. In the case of bourbon, to some degree, the purpose of the act that was passed in 1964 was to preserve what was a distinctly American form of making Whiskey. Something that was unique from the way it was done in Europe and it lead to a number of treaties that followed making it so no other nation could produce a whiskey called bourbon.
Looking for a local bourbon the clerk at the liquor store in Bozeman pointed me to Big Horn Bourbon which is produced by Willies Distillery located in Ennis Montana. It had apparently won an award. I am inherently suspicious of Whiskey awards, it seems every whiskey has won one, but I trust people that drink whiskey and their personal reactions more so I took the clerk’s advice and bought it. We later picked up a couple flasks and Big Horn Whiskey accompanied us throughout our time in Yellowstone.
There was no lack of things to toast from Old Faithful to the Grand Tetons, to finally getting a good shot of some grizzlies (my inner child really needed to see some bears), it goes on and on. To see the sites we visited including the ones listed above see the slideshow below. There were many stops at various hotel bars and different sites everyone completely unique from the other. That’s one thing that is great about Yellowstone from one area of the park to another the environment and weather can be dramatically different. Old faithful was t-shirt weather by the time we got to the lake Yellowstone hotel we were snowed in and by the time we ended our trip in the lamar valley it was gone again. By the time we were done there also wasn’t much left to the Big Horn Bourbon.
The other great thing about Yellowstone is the relative closeness of the wildlife. That closeness and the variety of the wildlife in Yellowstone is probably the thing that sets it apart. It has the breathtaking landscapes to be sure but it's almost edenic character when it comes to it's more permanent residents is something you rarely see. It's also something, I think, that fools a lot of people into believing that these are not really wild animals. You really should make sure to keep that in mind at all times as while we there there a girl was gored by one of the bison.