National Parks Wonders

Wendy Carlson's National Parks tour group
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I had the absolute pleasure to escort a group of 25 from our local community to celebrate the 100th anniversary of our National Parks. This was a 9-day journey from Salt Lake City, UT to Rapid City, SD aboard a very comfortable Trafalgar motor coach.
 
Although I have been lucky enough to travel to many beautiful places in the world, I really haven’t explored the many breathtaking settings in the US and oh my goodness, this trip exceeded my expectations. We met our Trafalgar Travel Director, Mary Lee, the first evening at a casual Welcome Reception.  Mary spent some time going over the day-to-day itinerary and let us know which meals were included, the optional sightseeing opportunities, how luggage was handled at each stop, and how Trafalgar makes traveling easier.
 
After a wonderful breakfast, we were on our way to Jackson, WY. Mary is a history major and has worked for Trafalgar for 10 years. She was a delight and shared wonderful information along the way. Traveling north into Idaho, we enjoyed an included lunch at funky covered wagon tables at the Oregon Trail Center, where we were delighted with a reenactment of Pioneer life. I realized I wouldn’t have survived during that time! 
 
We arrived at Jackson Hole mid-afternoon and had time to explore the charming town, while Mary arranged to have our luggage delivered to our rooms. A beautiful western-style city in the summer, and I’m sure spectacular in the winter as it's home to many celebrities for the ski season. We were delivered to The Lodge at Jackson Hole later that day to enjoy an evening on our own. This hotel was my favorite on the trip and the cabin décor perfect in this setting.
 
The next day, my group thoroughly enjoyed our included float trip down the Snake River. The scenery was stunning with the Grand Tetons rising above it all. But what really caught my attentionwas the peacefulness of the environment, the quiet ripples of the river, the beauty of the vegetation and varied wildlife. Yes, we saw three bald eagles! Afterwards, we enjoyed the aerial tram to the summit of Rendezvous Mountain at 10,450 ft. with views as far as the eye can see and a stop at the stunning Jenny Lake. I could have stayed here another week. This evening we enjoyed an included Chuckwagon dinner complete with a 20-minute ride with a real-cowboy driven covered wagon.
 
I was super excited for this day as we traveled to Yellowstone National Park and seeing the majestic bison crossing our path was a highlight. Not 10 minutes after our arrival at the quaint Old Faithful Lodge, we watched in awe as Old Faithful impressed us in all her glory. That is really a sight to see and we were fortunate staying at this property for two-nights allowing us to view it many times. A guided walk with a Local Specialist took us among spouting geysers, bubbling mudpots and turquoise hot springs. All the geothermal dynamics in this park are just too amazing for words. Yellowstone should be on your bucket list! 
 
From there  we headed east to the town of Cody and had a glimpse of the fascinating history at the Buffalo Bill Center of the West. Trafalgar surprised us with a very special opportunity to view artifacts not displayed for the public. No touching please! This evening we had an included group dinner at a true Western style historic café, complete with the history of this well-known establishment.
 
After an overnight in Sheridan, WY, we visited Devil’s Tower and enjoyed the fables of its history as well as the archaeological information about this ancient volcano. I stood wide-eyed in awe of this monument. From there we traveled to the Black Hills of South Dakota and the boomtown of Deadwood. We boarded an old school bus with a local guide (who has been living there a long time!) and enjoyed a tour of the area. A little time for shopping and the inability to resist the local turquoise, I am enjoying a beautiful ring to remind me of this adventure. This evening I chose an optional excursion to witness the lighting ceremony at Mount Rushmore. It was truly emotional and the Park Rangers recognized all of our veterans and currently serving military.
 
The last full-day we visited Mount Rushmore in the daylight, which is even more impressive. Trafalgar’s inside access got us as close as you can be to the Crazy Horse Memorial and we were allowed to take some of the small pieces of granite home as souvenirs. Its inspiring how this memorial is being constructed based solely on private funding and contributions. The last part of the day was a trek through the endless plains of South Dakota to the rugged beauty of Badlands National Park. Its formations are similar to sandcastles and can have you dreaming up all sorts of stories.
 
Our adventure ended with a festive Farewell dinner at the hotel complete with a performance by Steven Yellowhawk. This Native American was truly inspirational and I felt honored to be in his presence. He shared stories about his heritage and history of his family, the meaning behind his attire and the majesty of his traditional dance. The bond and comradery of this shared group tour experience, is a memory I will forever treasure.