David, Steven, and Richard -
Thanks so much for your invaluable input, and the generous offers of personal contact info. You guys are what makes BPL one of the best online communities anywhere.
So, after reading your posts, we chose the Specimen Ridge route, but for car logistics, we're going to do it in reverse. When we started looking at campsites, it became apparent that we could comfortably extend the mileage, so we made what we think will be a great addition to the trip:
1)We'll arrive at Yellowstone mid-afternoon on Saturday, Aug 11th, South Entrance, get permits, etc., and drive toward Canyon Village. We'll park the car at Artist Point, check out the Falls, and hike the couple of miles and camp at backcountry campsite 4R1/Ribbon Lake.
2)On Sunday, we take Wapiti Lake Trail to campsite 5B2/Broad Creek.
3)On Monday, we take the Upper Pelican Creek Trail over to the Mist Creek Trail. Excited about Upper Pelican, because we'll pass some thermal features, and our original trip didn't include that. Continue to Campsite 3U3/Little Saddle Creek near the intersection of Mist Creek and Lamar.
4)On Tuesday, hike the Lamar River Trail, camping at 3L1/Cache Creek.
5)On Wednesday, take Specimen Ridge back to Tower-Roosevelt, and hitchhike back to Canyon Village / Artist Point to pick up the car.
The folks at the Yellowstone Backcountry Office were really helpful, and the permit process couldn't have been easier. Even though permit reservations aren't taken over the phone, we were able to check campsite availability for the nights we wanted by telephone before faxing in our permit request, which made the process much more streamlined. I faxed in the request around noon on a Friday, and got the confirmation back THREE HOURS LATER via email. Awesome!
Also, for anyone who might stumble across this thread who hasn't used it, Google Earth was an amazing tool in trip planning. Since it will display TRAILS, it's easy to draw and save a path, and send the file to trip-mates to review. In addition to mileage estimates, it will also display an elevation profile, 3-D imagery, etc. That being said, we still relied on the NatGeo Trails Illustrated Yellowstone Map for definitive versions of the trails, and you still need the Yellowstone Backcountry Planner .PDF file to get campsite locations and code designations. Google Earth currently shows campsites in their correct locations (more or less), and while it does give them a three letter/number designation, those codes were almost always incorrect. But combined, those three map tools made the planning really easy and enjoyable.
We'll head back to Jackson, climb the Grand Teton with Exum Guides, and then we're planning a quick three day backpack in Grand Teton National Park. Yahoo!!!