exploring yellowstone national park

yellowstone national park | the merry gourmet

This is the third post (of four) in which I’m sharing our itinerary for our recent trip out to Jackson Hole, Grand Teton National Park, and Yellowstone National Park. The first post is here, and the second post is here – in case you missed them.

Warning: Photo-heavy post ahead.

* * * * *

Days 5: Old Faithful to Mammoth

One unexpected upside to Yellowstone was the disconnection to the outside world. There were no televisions in the hotels, and WIFI (for a fee) was only available at a handful of locations in the entire 2.2 million acres. There was also no radio. We usually listen to radio in the car, but we lost the signal shortly after entering the park from the south entrance. The silence, initially palpable and deafening, was soon comfortable and expected.

Now, let me dispel any notion you may have that we rode in that stylish rental minivan for hours each day without any noise or electronic distractions.  I am not stupid. I would never travel without items to occupy my kids’ busy minds. We traveled with exactly three iPads, one laptop, and two Kindles. Frozen was on constant replay from at least one device at any given time. In between Frozen clips, the kids played Minecraft on their iPads – which are technically NOT their iPads at all but only borrowed from their parents. (Yeah, sure.)

yellowstone national park | the merry gourmet

yellowstone national park | the merry gourmet

Grand Prismatic Spring, in the Midway Geyser Basin in the Old Faithful area.

yellowstone national park | the merry gourmet

We left the Old Faithful Inn that morning of day 5, and both kids immediately powered on the iPads and began building their own versions of the 100+- year-old hotel, complete with geysers in the pixelated font lawn of the game.

We stopped to see more geysers and geothermal features after leaving the hotel. Old Faithful is only one of many geysers in Yellowstone, and the park is filled with hot springs in all shapes and sizes. The Grand Prismatic Spring is the largest hot spring in Yellowstone, and arguably the most beautiful. The intensity of the colors – a rainbow of colors – was almost inconceivable. The intensity of the odor was incredible, as well, but in a less positive way.

Mammoth Hot Springs was the next stop on our agenda that day. We’d hoped to make it to Mammoth by noon, but construction on the road between Norris and Mammoth delayed us by a couple of hours. We had a late lunch at the Mammoth Hotel Dining Room, about 30 minutes before it closed until dinner. Despite our late arrival, the staff were welcoming and friendly, especially the one who knocked the full water glass over on me.

yellowstone national park | the merry gourmet

Mammoth Hot Springs.

yellowstone national park | the merry gourmet

A female elk in the Mammoth area.

The animals of Yellowstone are the true owners of that park, and Mammoth was a good example of that. Elk roam freely in the center of the town area, and park rangers are quick to chastise eager tourists wielding cameras and iPhones who attempt to get too close. We were told that more human injuries are caused by encounters with elk and bison than by bear attacks, so we were very good rule followers when it came to wildlife.

After leaving Mammoth Hot Springs, we headed toward our next hotel for the night – the Lake Lodge Cabins, on the edge of Yellowstone Lake, in the southeastern side of the park.

yellowstone national park | the merry gourmet

The Tower Falls area.

One of our stops along the way was the Tower Falls area. From a viewpoint along the side of the road, we stood looking across the canyon and down the length of the Yellowstone River. Oliver pointed out a bald eagle flying below our vantage point. A tree nearby leaned out over the canyon, and in it’s branches perched a gorgeous Western Tanager, its crimson head standing out in stark contrast to its yellow body and black wings. Across the canyon, several pronghorn antelope grazed in the distance. I took each of these as signs, and this area now has a new and special meaning for me.

The road to Yellowstone Lake and the Lake Area (as it’s referred to in the guidebooks) crosses through some of  the most beautiful scenery. They Hayden Valley was one of our favorite areas, mostly because it was home to lots of wildlife and birds. Bison were abundant, so much so that my kids eventually yelled from the backseat whenever we pointed out bison, “Stop telling us about bison! We don’t want to see more bison!”

We pointed out bison anyway. Just to annoy them.

yellowstone national park | the merry gourmet

Hayden Valley.

yellowstone national park | the merry gourmet


yellowstone national park | the merry gourmet

A typical source of traffic jams in the park.

yellowstone national park | the merry gourmet

The nights of day 5 and of day 6 were spent in the Lake Lodge Cabins, and I could have happily stayed there longer. The views of the lake from the front of the hotel were gorgeous, and we were able to watch elk and bison from the front porch of the main lodge.

yellowstone national park | the merry gourmet

Wolfie, Lucy the Bison, Penguin, Eeyore, and Foxy.

 Day 6: Lake Yellowstone, Lamar Valley, and Canyon Area

On our sixth day, our only plans were to drive north to the Lamar Valley. We had a dinner reservation at the Lake Hotel Dining Room at 5:30, but other than that, nothing else was scheduled. Our first stop was to the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone. We took two hikes while we were there, both to see waterfalls – one hike to view the Upper Falls, and the second to view the Lower Falls.

During the first hike, the kids made fun of us for our looks of exhaustion as we trekked up the steep path back to where we started. They joked that they were much better hikers than we were. The hike down the canyon to view the Lower Falls was much more steep (a descent of 600 feet) and much longer (about 3/4 mile one way), with an incredible view of the Lower Falls as the reward. The loose gravel and slippery rocks along the path made the climb down as treacherous as the climb up was exhausting. Oliver fell on the way down and refused to speak to any of us (other than yelling) for the rest of the hike.

yellowstone national park | the merry gourmet

The Grand Canyon of Yellowstone.

yellowstone national park | the merry gourmet

The Lower Falls in the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone.

We saw bears almost every day during our stay in the national parks, and one of the most special was our sighting of a mother black bear and her cub in the woods just north of Canyon Village. As it always did, traffic slowed to a stop as we all tried to get just the perfect shot of the animals.

This was also one of the moments when I realized I needed a much stronger zoom lens.

yellowstone national park | the merry gourmet

Mama black bear.

yellowstone national park | the merry gourmet

Tree-climbing baby black bear.

yellowstone national park | the merry gourmet


The time slips by quicker in Yellowstone. So often, we realized that we were rushing because the day was getting short. We stopped frequently during our drives, all of us needing some time out of the car to wander, to pick up rocks, to look through binoculars, to kick dirty piles of snow, and to admire the ground under our feet.

We packed a picnic lunch on the sixth day – plastic-wrapped sandwiches and chips from one of Yellowstone’s General Stores. We didn’t want to waste any extra time that day in a restaurant, instead choosing to have lunch by a stream in the Lamar Valley. The ham sandwiches were bland and nondescript, but eating them in that spot, in the fresh air, surrounded by all of that beauty, made them one of the tastiest lunches of the trip.

yellowstone national park | the merry gourmet

yellowstone national park | the merry gourmet

In Lamar Valley.

yellowstone national park | the merry gourmet

yellowstone national park | the merry gourmet

Cliff swallow nests at the Soda Butte rock formation (an extinct geyser) in Lamar Valley.

yellowstone national park | the merry gourmet

An American White Pelican, spotted at LeHardy’s Rapids, north of Yellowstone Lake.

We were thirty minutes late to our dinner reservation that night. I explained our reasons – a bison traffic jam, mostly – to the somber hostess at the Lake Hotel Dining Room. She was not sympathetic or the slightest bit amused, but she seated us anyway. Clearly she’d heard that excuse before, and she was not impressed.

We chose the buffet that night, and it was an excellent decision. I highly recommend the bison pot roast, the potato gratin, and the chilled rhubarb-strawberry soup. I’m still thinking of that soup, and when my new toy is delivered in the next couple of weeks, I’m going to try to recreate it.

Our evening ended with a short hike down to the lake and back, and two more animal sightings – an elk by the lake and two bison in the parking lot. We’d been making a list of all the animals we spotted, and those two days yielded some good additions: a bald eagle, deer, elk, bison, black bears, cinnamon-colored black bears, mountain goats, pronghorn antelope, a grizzly bear, cutthroat trout, a mountain chickadee, sandhill cranes, marmots, a western tanager, numerous swallows, and an American white  pelican.

On day 7, we would leave Yellowstone and head back to Jackson Hole for a couple of nights before taking a flight back home. I went to bed that night feeling a bit melancholy. The trip was nearing its end, and I hated for it to be over.

yellowstone national park | the merry gourmet

The view in front of Yellowstone’s Lake Lodge Cabins.

yellowstone national park | the merry gourmet

In front of the Lake Lodge Cabins, on Lake Yellowstone.

 *   *   *   *   *

For more information on where we stayed and ate, during this leg of the trip, here are some links:

  • Mammoth Hotel Dining Room – We were able to walk in and be seated for a late lunch, but if you want to dine during peak hours, make a reservation to be safe.
  • Lake Lodge Cabins on Lake Yellowstone
  • Lake Lodge Cafeteria – This is truly a cafeteria. We ate here for breakfast and for dinner. Breakfast was great. Dinner was not, but they had been overwhelmed with several large bus groups. On the positive side, there is a full-service bar right outside the cafeteria.
  • Lake Hotel Dining Room – Reservations for dinner are recommended
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21 Responses to “st. augustine, florida: salt water cowboys”

  1. Liren — August 18, 2010 @ 10:59 pm

    What a peaceful looking place! It sounds like a perfect spot to unwind after a Disney trip. As much as I love Disney, it does seem to require a vacation after the vacation! It’s so nice that your parents can meet you and enjoy tasty meals (and fun drinks)! I love Jane and Michael Stern, too; their finds and the stories always make me smile. Sounds like you all found a true gem 🙂

  2. Gail — August 18, 2010 @ 11:02 pm

    In the words of the inimitable Tina Fey, “I want to go to there.”

  3. Eileen — August 18, 2010 @ 11:27 pm

    OMG… I love Salt Water Cowboys! My husband and I eat there every time we go to the St. Augustine area (which happens to be one of our favorite places to visit). Great food, fun atmosphere – I miss that place…

  4. Mardi@eatlivetravelwrite — August 19, 2010 @ 7:13 am

    Those drinks look incredible – i would have been right there with you. And that stuffed shrimp – YUM!

  5. Brian @ A Thought For Food — August 19, 2010 @ 7:19 am

    I would be right there with you drinking one of those… nothing to be ashamed of! 😉 And that food looks incredible.

  6. RavieNomNoms — August 19, 2010 @ 8:48 am

    ooooo looks like so much fun! And those drinks?! They look so cute 🙂

  7. Jason Phelps — August 19, 2010 @ 9:06 am

    Definitely one of those places that gets talked about for all the right reasons.

    Thank You


  8. Just Food Snobs — August 19, 2010 @ 9:45 am

    What a beautiful restaurant and beautiful food! Thanks for sharing!

  9. Kath — August 19, 2010 @ 10:40 am

    @Gail 🙂 lol I want to go to there, too!

  10. Barbara | VinoLuciStyle — August 19, 2010 @ 1:00 pm

    Even though you’re in Florida, these pictures and the foods are so reminiscent of when I lived in NC and we would vacation in Myrtle Beach, SC. I want that shrimp dish, it looks divine but more than that, I want to be there with that view eating that dish.

    I miss the Carolinas; even more so after seeing your posts about your vacation; maybe it’s time to consider revisiting a place where I left so much of my heart when I moved to Colorado.

    • merrygourmet

      merrygourmet replied: — August 19th, 2010 @ 7:46 pm

      Barb – Sounds like you need to plan a vacation. 🙂

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  12. Leigh — August 19, 2010 @ 6:56 pm

    You really have a gift for photography, MJ. I’ve heard amazing things about SWC, but I’ve never been. I don’t eat seafood so we normally opt for Cuban or Spanish in St. Aug. I think next time we go I’ll have to give it a look. I’m sure they have steak, yeah?

    • merrygourmet

      merrygourmet replied: — August 19th, 2010 @ 7:45 pm

      Leigh – You are SO sweet. They have barbecue and probably some form of beef. You could always go for the gator tail or frog legs. 😉

  13. Velva — August 20, 2010 @ 9:07 pm

    You are right, the view from the restaurant is stunning. The food is intended to be fun and it shows. Nice. I would not have resisted the drinks either. Thanks for sharing.

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  15. Monica — August 21, 2010 @ 5:56 pm

    darn–we were just there. Next trip to see the family I am suggesting this place! Cracker Coolade and a gator growl…might be mixing those up come football season!

    • merrygourmet

      merrygourmet replied: — August 22nd, 2010 @ 8:42 am

      Monica – Next time you definitely need to make the trip there. You – and the kids – would LOVE it.

  16. Claudia McCants — May 20, 2011 @ 2:19 pm

    Their salad is a family favorite that you can easily recreate at home when you’re nostalgic for Florida and Salt Water Cowboys. We make it with mixed greens, a sliced Granny Smith apple, walnuts, sliced red onions and Honey Mustard Dressing (store bought or homemade).

  17. Cristy — September 26, 2012 @ 6:21 pm

    Fabulous Food!

    Great experience!

    Joey was a great waiter!

    Highly recommend.

  18. Ron — May 25, 2013 @ 8:48 pm

    I have been to saltwater cowboys many times and usually have a good experience. On my most recent visit they had yellow fin tuna, mahi mahi and red snapper as the fish of the day. I went with the mahi mahi. Everything served was fine except the mahi mahi. I eat a lot of fish and I do not believe I was served mahi mahi. I believe I was served tilapia. In fact, I believe I was served soggy tilapia. It was rather disappointing, but my wife didn’t want to complain so we wrote it off. $44 for two soggy tilapias, 2 excellent baked potatoes, bread and salad may have been a bit more than it was worth.

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